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Coping with and Treating Motion Sickness

An experienced travel doctor provides practical advice on preventing and treating motion sickness.

By Dr. Mark Wise

One of the more humbling experiences of travel is being on a plane, train, bus, boat or whatever, and suddenly turning green and sweaty, becoming nauseated and developing an uncontrollable urge to throw up. Welcome to motion sickness!

Motion sickness has been with us for centuries, in fact, ever since men and women began moving faster than our maker intended. Julius Caesar suffered while riding around in his chariot, and Tom Hanks upchucked in Apollo 11. It is due to information overload - too many conflicting signals reaching the brain from the inner ear and the eyes.

Like altitude sickness and jet lag, certain individuals may be more susceptible to this condition. It occurs rarely in children under two and in the elderly ( let's call that over 60). Young children aged two to twelve are affected the most. I have fond memories of giving my daughter a Gravol suppository in the rear seat of the car (that's not where the suppository went!) in the dead of a Canadian winter.

In any case, what can be done to try to prevent motion sickness? Firstly, try to pick the best seat. That might be the front seat of a car or a bus (with the window a bit open), over the wing of the plane (with the window shut), or in a mid-ships cabin close to the waterline on a boat. Try to avoid heavy meals, alcohol and cigarette smoke. Especially with children, try to keep them occupied by playing games. Avoid reading. If necessary, lie on your back in a semi-reclined position, and keep your head as still as possible. Focus on distant objects such as the horizon.

There are many other remedies, some of which may be more useful for some people than others. They include:

antinauseant medications such as dimenhydrinate, meclizine, promethazine; side effects might include drowsiness, dry mouth and blurred vision; should be used with caution in those with glaucoma or prostatic hypertrophy.

scopalamine - available as a transdermal patch (Transderm V); can be placed behind the ear for up to three days; may cause the same problems as the above medications; I often suggest that someone try it at home prior to going on their fancy cruise.

ginger root (zingiber officinale) - available as capsules (two 500 mg capsules an hour before travel) or in the dry root form.

acupressure - this can be applied via the Sea-Band, which consists of two wristbands that maintain a constant pressure at the Nei-Kuan accupressure point; also available, for a lot more money, the ReliefBand, which applies transcutaneous nerve stimulation (TENS) at the same site.

Dr. Mark Wise is the director of The Travel Clinic (TM)) in Thornhill, Ontario, Canada and the Medical Director of The Travel Wise (TM) Clinic in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada. He is a family physician with training from the London School of Tropical Medicine in Tropical Diseases. He is a parent himself and often see potential adoptive parents in his clinic. Dr. Wise gives lectures and writes articles on the subject of travel medicine, for both medical and non-medical groups.
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