What Happens To Your Body When You Get Motion Sickness?


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Photography by Unsplash

Occasionally, getting there is NOT half the fun. Here’s why the journey can be so uncomfortable thanks to motion sickness.

1. You hit the open road – or ocean, or sky – and while nothing sounds alarming, your ears switch to red alert. Yes, your ears. Deep inside each one sits a series of tiny fluid-filled chambers called semicircular canals. As your head moves, so does the fluid in the canals; it swishes over microscopic hairs that send nerve signals to the brain. The message: Your body is in motion.

2. When you’re, say, running or walking, that message matches visual cues from your eyes. But when you catch a ride, things can go haywire. Moving! say the ears. Sitting still! say the eyes, since most of your immediate surroundings – the seat in front of you, the book you’re reading – are fixed.

3. Your head is now besieged with conflicting sensory signals. Particularly disturbed is an area of the brain stem called the vestibular nuclei, which engages a nearby tangle of nerve cells named…the vomiting centre. Seriously, that’s the technical term.

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4. The vomiting centre has a direct line to – you guessed it – your digestive tract. You’re now nauseous, or even sick to your stomach. Probably pretty pale and sweaty, too.

5. Once you’re queasy, there’s no quick fix. In any mode of transport, stare at the horizon – doing so may help sync your motion sensors. If you can’t see a horizon, tilt your chair back, shut your eyes, and hope for sleep. If you’re on a ship and awake, don’t go below deck, where your ears sense even more movement but your eyes see nothing but fixed walls.

6. Some experts argue that the ear-eye theory is off and that motion sickness is your body’s defence against being moved without your control – in other words, you’re surging forward, but not by your own two feet. In either case, women are more likely to get sick than men, so it’s best to be prepared.

7. If you’re traveling by car, try taking the wheel. Driving lends you more control and may provide your eyes with more clues that you’re actually moving. Roll down the windows – fresh air can help abate nausea.

8. Taken preventively, motion-sickness meds, which waylay those wonky nerve signals, can offer relief. Some people swear by acupressure wrist bands, though they’ve never been scientifically proven. And though experts don’t know why, solid forms of ginger (think ginger sweets or the kind that comes with sushi, not ginger ale) may help settle the stomach. If nothing works, you can expect to feel better a few minutes after you’ve reached your destination.

Looking for more info? This is what happens to your body when you take a long-haul flight

Watch ON: Health Health Advice