Motion sickness

Also called travel sickness, airsickness, seasickness, or carsickness

Key points about motion sickness

  • Motion sickness is the feeling of wanting to throw up (nausea) or throwing up (vomiting or being sick) when you're on a rocking boat, bumpy plane ride or a car ride with lots of corners.
  • Although motion sickness doesn't cause long-term problems, it can make you feel miserable and it can make travel very unpleasant.
  • Anyone can get motion sickness, but it's more common in children 5 to 12 years old and women. 
View of water and hills from the back of a boat
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The symptoms of motion sickness include a general feeling that you're sick, along with:

  • the feeling of wanting to throw up (nausea)
  • throwing up (vomiting or being sick)
  • headache
  • cold sweat
  • dizziness
  • an increase in saliva (spit)
  • feeling very tired
  • going pale.

These symptoms usually go away soon after the movement stops. After a long trip of many days the symptoms of motion sickness can last for 1–2 days. 

Motion sickness is caused when the system responsible for maintaining balance (inner ear, eyes, and sensory nerves) gets confused. This happens when one part of your body senses that you're moving, but the other parts don't. Each part sends different messages to your brain and it gets mixed up. For example, if you are in the cabin of a ship, your inner ear feels the movement of the waves. But your eyes, looking at the wall inside the cabin, don't see any movement. This confusion between the senses causes motion sickness.

Women are more likely to get motion sickness, particularly when they have their period or during pregnancy.

People who get migraines are more likely to get motion sickness and to have a migraine at the same time. It's rare in children younger than 2 years of age.

You can also get motion sickness from video games, flight simulators, 3D movies or looking through a microscope. In these activities your eyes see motion but your body doesn't sense it.

Friends playing video games on couch one feeling unwell

Image credit: Canva

Preventing motion sickness before it happens works better than treating the symptoms after they've started. By working out what situations cause motion sickness for you, you may be able to do some things that will prevent or lessen the symptoms.


Before your journey

  • Eat before a journey – avoid travelling on an empty stomach. Eat a small amount of light, soft, bland food.
  • Don't drink alcohol the night before a trip.
  • Anti-motion sickness medicines are helpful if you're going on the kind of trip that always causes your motion sickness.

During your journey

  • Have small sips of water to keep you hydrated.  
  • Sit in the place with the least motion; the front seat of the car, over the wings of the aircraft or in the middle of the ship. Face forward in the direction you're travelling in. 
  • Be active if you can – walk on the deck of a ship or be the driver of the car. 
  • Don't look at moving things eg, waves or trees beside the road. Look forward at a fixed point on the horizon. 
  • If you can’t see the horizon, trying to sleep or rest with your eyes closed can help. Put your seat in the recline position if you're on a plane.
  • Breathe fresh air if you can. Avoid strong smells from cigarettes, food or fumes while travelling.
  • Avoid reading or watching a screen.
  • Try using relaxation techniques such as listening to music while focusing on your breathing or carrying out a mental activity, such as counting backwards from 100.


If you're taking medicines to prevent motion sickness, take them before travelling or as soon as possible after symptoms begin. The options for preventing motion sickness include:

  • hyoscine (also called scopolamine) which is a medicated patch you place behind your ear at least 5 hours before you travel
  • antihistamines, eg, cyclizine (Nausicalm), meclozine (Sea Legs) and promethazine (Phenergan or Allersoothe) – available on prescription or from your pharmacist. 

Note: Non-sedating antihistamines such as cetirizine and loratadine are not effective in preventing motion sickness.

Other treatment options

Research shows ginger and acupressure bands are unlikely to be helpful, but some people like to try them. They're not expensive or harmful. 

Apps reviewed by Healthify

You may find it useful to look at some Pain, headache and concussion apps.

The following links provide further information on motion sickness. Be aware that websites from other countries may contain information that differs from New Zealand recommendations.

Motion (travel) sickness(external link) Patient Info, UK


Pain, headache and concussion apps


  1. Brainard A, Gresham C. Prevention and treatment of motion sickness(external link) Am Fam Physician. 2014;90(1):41-46
  2. Motion (travel) sickness(external link) Patient Info, UK, 2023

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Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Dr Emma Dunning, Clinical Editor and Advisor

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