9 Ways to Head Off Car Sickness
Plus, why some people are more prone to it than others
If you’ve ever been racked with nausea and other symptoms of motion sickness on a road trip when everyone else is enjoying the ride, you may have wondered Why me? Turns out you can probably blame it on your genes.
Scientists already knew that motion sickness is largely genetic, but a new study has pinpointed the subtle variations in DNA that can make you more susceptible to it. Researchers found 35 genetic factors — all of them variations in single building blocks of DNA — that are associated with motion sickness. Many of them affect genes involved in balance as well as eye, ear, and brain development, according to the study, which was published in Human Molecular Genetics.
So how do these genetic factors spell trouble for road trips? Largely by affecting the vestibular system of the inner ear — the part that senses motion and body position and adjusts your balance as necessary. “You’re sensing your body move one way, while your visual cue is going another way,” says Jack Chou, MD, a member of the board of directors for the American Academy of Family Physicians. “It’s a confusion of your nervous system with your surroundings.”
That imbalance can lead to a host of unpleasant symptoms, including belching, yawning, pale skin, excess saliva, headache, nausea, irritability and drowsiness. “You have to have consistent motion, so the longer the drive, the more likely it will occur,” says Chou.
Related: Road Trip Checklist for Your Car
Heading off the queasiness
The study suggested that research on the genetic factors associated with motion sickness may one day lead to better treatments. In the meantime, some simple remedies offer relief.
Chou says that taking a break every couple of hours to interrupt the motion and get some fresh air is a great way to quell or head off symptoms of motion sickness. You can also try these tips:
- Pick the best seat in the car. Drivers rarely get carsick, so if you have a driver’s license, stay behind the wheel. “Your brain’s so focused on looking at the road, and that distraction suppresses the motion sickness response,” says Chou. The second best seat is the front passenger seat, because you can see the road ahead through the windshield.. For younger children, the center of the back seat (or middle row, if you have a minivan) is best, because it offers a view through the front windshield.
- Pretend you’re driving. Leaning in the direction of a turn helps reduce the disconnect between your body and eyes. “When we drive through the mountains, I always tell my kids to lean into turns. If you warn kids ahead of time about a turn or going over a hill, that seems to help as well,” says Chou.
- Don’t read, look at a computer screen or text. Concentrating on a still object means your eyes aren’t registering the car’s movement, but your body and brain are. To sync up these two, try looking outside at the distant horizon (but avoid watching things race by outside a side window, which can trigger car sickness). Or you can close your eyes and rest.
- Distract yourself. Listening to music, playing car games, and tuning in to a book on tape are all great distractions that don’t require your eyes to be engaged. Watching a movie, though, can make some kids carsick.
- Open the windows whenever possible. Fresh air can help prevent motion sickness.
- Graze. An empty stomach can set you up for nausea, but so can one that’s too full. Munch on crackers or pretzels.Drink small amounts of water to stay hydrated. When you stop for a meal, avoid greasy, spicy, or acidic foods. It’s also good to remember not to drink alcohol before a drive (even if you’re a passenger) and to limit your caffeine intake.
Meds that can help
If you’re going on a journey that’s more than a few hours long and you’re susceptible to motion sickness, it makes sense to take something to try and head off symptoms — or to at least have something on hand to take..
- Antihistamines. Older antihistamines such as Dramamine (dimenhydrinate) and Benadryl (diphenhydramine)work well for motion sickness. Unfortunately, they’re also likely to knock you out, so anyone driving should avoid them. “The primary action of these medications is to [temporarily] deaden the nerves, which also causes fatigue,” says Chou. The newer “non-drowsy” antihistamines do not help with motion sickness.
If you develop motion sickness while you’re driving, you’ll want to forgo these medications or have someone else take the wheel. The meds take about 30 minutes to kick in, and their effect can last for four to six hours. Avoid driving during that period: Benadryl, for example, may have a more powerful impact on driving performance than alcohol.
You can treat children aged two and older with Dramamine or Benadryl one hour before travel and every six hours during the trip. Follow the dosage instructions carefully, though, since over-sedation of toddlers with antihistamines can be dangerous. Since these medications can make your child sleepy, don’t use them if you want your child to be awake. Antihistamines can also elicit the opposite reaction in some kids, making them wired.You may want to do a trial runat home to see how your child reacts.
If a child or adult is nauseated, vomiting can offer some relief. You may want to hold off on taking medication if a person feels like he or she needs to throw up.
- Scopolamine patch This prescription patch, which should not be used in children, is applied behind the ear at least eight hours before driving. The benefits can last up to two or three days, which is why people tend to use them on longer trips. The patch may cause a little drowsiness at first, but people can usually adjust to it.
- Ginger candies or root capsules. This is an alternative remedy approach that’s worth trying. The evidence is not conclusive, but ginger might help with mild cases of nausea. You can take up to 250 milligrams four times a day.
Related: How to Change a Flat Tire
Armed with these remedies and a little luck, you may be able to evade car sickness and sing along to the radio with everyone else.