Travel Sickness

Travel sickness is very common, especially among children, and is more common in women than in men. Some people get travel sick in cars but are fine on planes, trains and boats. Others suffer with almost any kind of motion. But you don't need to let travel sickness ruin your holiday.

We're all going on a summer holiday! These familiar words should be a cause for celebration, but if you suffer from travel sickness, even the thought of getting there might make your stomach churn. Travel sickness is very common, especially among children, and is more common in women than in men. Your brain constantly processes messages from the delicate balance mechanisms in your inner ear, which tell you which way is up. If you're travelling, and especially if it's a bumpy ride, the messages from your inner ear are different from the ones your eyes are sending to your brain. If you're prone to travel sickness, the results include sweating, feeling faint and cold, producing more saliva, and headaches, as well as the most obvious symptoms of feeling and sometimes being sick. Some people get travel sick in cars but are fine on planes, trains and boats. Others suffer with almost any kind of motion. But you don't need to let travel sickness ruin your holiday.

How can I help myself?

Understanding the causes of travel sickness is key to avoiding it. You can often prevent or control symptoms by reducing the mixed messages your brain gets from your eyes and ears. Either closing your eyes or focusing on the horizon, so your eyes are fixed on something, will help. So will sitting in the front car seat, over the airplane wing or on deck in the middle of the boat, which keeps movement to a minimum. Focusing your eyes hard on an object that's moving with you, like a book (yes, that does include map books!) or a video, will make symptoms worse. This is one situation where your grandma's advice about getting plenty of fresh air really will do you good!

Travel sickness can be made worse by strong smells, so best not to wear perfume, put petrol in the car or visit the ship's canteen, and certainly avoid alcohol. Do drink cold water regularly and try some ginger (in tea, biscuit or crystallised form) to settle your stomach.


Medicines for travel sickness

The most effective medicine for travel sickness is called hyoscine - you can buy tablets from your pharmacist, without a prescription. It can cause drowsiness so you should never use it if you're going to drive, and you should use it with caution if you're over 65 or have other health problems. Your pharmacist can help decide if it's suitable for you. A single dose 30 minutes to an hour before you travel should be all you need, and if necessary your doctor can prescribe a skin patch which releases hyoscine slowly into your system. Antihistamines may also help.

Will I get over it?

Fortunately, many children grow out of travel sickness - our family has just started braving mountain scenery again after a decade of avoiding the hairpin bends!

Deep vein thrombosis and travel - should I worry?

My patients worry a lot about getting a clot on the leg, or deep vein thrombosis (DVT), during long-haul travel. In fact, the risk is fairly small, even on trips of over four hours. It's certainly much smaller than the risk associated with, say, surgery on your leg or major stomach surgery. However, it does happen, and to keep your risk to a minimum:

  • Drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids, but don't drink alcohol, which dehydrates you. Dehydration makes your blood more 'sticky' and prone to clots.
  • Get up and walk around regularly on long-haul flights. Don't forget that long car trips carry the same risk, so stop every couple of hours to stretch your legs.
  • If you have long-term health problems (especially those which limit your mobility) talk to your pharmacist about compression stockings to wear on long journeys. I hear they're this year's hot fashion item!

Leg cramps - the lowdown

Sitting in the same position for long periods can make you prone to painful leg cramps. Like DVT, they can often be avoided by moving around regularly and keeping your fluid intake up. But for added peace of mind, avoid travelling at night, when leg cramps are most common, and do regular leg stretches three times a day for a few weeks before you travel.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.