Preventing Motion Sickness

Frank Gillingham, MD

Motion Sickness is remarkably common and while some people are more susceptible than others, there's probably no one who is immune if the motion stimulus is strong enough and unfamiliar enough. While modern cruise ships are designed with stabilizer systems to minimize the movements that stimulate Motion Sickness, in certain types of weather there's no ship design that can prevent seasickness.


Motion Sickness appears to result when the brain receives conflicting information about body position and balance from the eyes, ears, joints and muscles, over a prolonged period of time. Children seem to be more easily affected than adults. Fortunately, the brain is remarkably adaptive and can eventually learn to anticipate the motion of a boat or vehicle, reducing the sensory conflict—a process sailors refer to as "getting your sea legs."

Motion Sickness is more than simple nausea and vomiting. While many patterns occur, yawning, drowsiness, and fatigue are often the first abnormal symptoms victims report. Some people notice stomach awareness, slight sweating, clammy skin, headache and a feeling of warmth. Motion Sickness can make it very difficult to concentrate, even when the victim isn't vomiting. If you're a passenger on a cruise ship with no responsibilities for guiding the boat, Motion Sickness may be a terrific inconvenience but probably not dangerous. However, if you have a job to do, as a crew member of a sail boat, for example, you must manage or prevent your symptoms aggressively.

Managing Motion Sickness

Cruise ship passengers who are susceptible to motion sickness should request a room close to the center of the ship to minimize back and forth motion.

The key is to recognize symptoms early and respond to them. If you're on a boat, stay on deck and close to the center of the ship where the ship's motion is minimized (on a plane the center of the cabin may be more stable than other sections; ask to be reseated). Get some fresh air if possible—e.g. open the car window. Face forward. Use a technique called "horizon viewing" in which you position yourself so that you have good, broad view of the horizon in your peripheral vision. Some travelers find night-time travel easier—others rely on dark glasses to reduce the amount of visual stimulation. Most people find the front seat of the car more comfortable than the back.

Avoid reading or other tasks that take your eye off the horizon and require focusing. Closing your eyes may be helpful. Remain as still as possible. If symptoms are severe lie flat and, if possible, take a break from moving—that is, stop the car, get out and walk around. The symptoms may go away and stay away, even after you resume your journey.

Be careful what and how much you eat—nausea from any other cause will lower your susceptibility to motion sickness.

Grab a motion sickness bag just in case. As bad as it is to use it, the alternative is far worse. In addition, medications that treat nausea and vomiting such as Phenergan (generic name promethazine) can be helpful for treating Motion Sickness once it has occurred.

Medications for Prevention

People who are prone to Motion Sickness or others who feel strongly about avoiding it should consider using a medication to prevent it. These agents work best when used before symptoms start. Many people who take them after they begin to get sick notice little improvement and conclude that the drugs don't work. Give them a second chance, but plan ahead. Here are a few choices:

Other Preventive Devices and Techniques