Motion sickness (travel sickness): Causes, remedies, and symptoms

Motion sickness is a very common disturbance of the inner ear. It is caused by repeated motion from a vehicle or any other movements that disturb the inner ear.

Some people experience nausea and even vomiting when riding in an airplane, automobile, or amusement park ride. One study, published in PloS one in 2013, suggested that 3-D movies can also cause nausea.

This condition is generally called motion sickness. When riding on a boat or ship, it is commonly referred to as sea sickness – but it is the same disorder.

Fast facts on motion sickness:

There is no difference between motion sickness and sea sickness.

Individuals and animals without a functional vestibular (balance) system are immune to motion sickness.

Without the motion-sensing organs of the inner ear, motion sickness does not occur, suggesting that the inner ear is important in motion sickness.

The symptoms of motion sickness include nausea, vomiting, and dizziness.


close up of a mans ear
Motion sickness is thought to be caused by conflicting signals in the inner ear, eyes, and sensory receptors.

Motion is sensed by the brain through different pathways of the nervous system including the inner ear, the eyes, and the tissues of the body surface.

When the body is moved intentionally, for example when walking, the input from all of the pathways are coordinated by our brain.

The symptoms of motion sickness appear when the central nervous system receives conflicting messages from the sensory systems: the inner ear, eyes, skin pressure receptors, and the muscle and joint sensory receptors.

As an example, if someone is sat on a boat or in a car (not looking out of a window), their inner ears sense movement up and down, left and right, but their eyes see a static view, as if they are not moving at all.
It is hypothesized that the conflict among the inputs is responsible for motion sickness.

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Serious symptoms include:






short breath



Other common signs are:


a general feeling of discomfort

not feeling well (malaise)

Mild symptoms are categorized as:


mild unease



Most cases of motion sickness are mild and self-treatable.

Very severe cases, and those that become progressively worse, deserve the attention and care of a physician with special skill in diseases of the ear, balance (equilibrium), and nervous system.

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