Dealing with Car Sickness

Delays and traffic jams aren’t the only things that can disrupt your travel plans – so too can car sickness, making long journeys even more arduous. This handy guide covers everything you need to know about motion sickness and what you can do to prevent it.

What is car sickness?

DRIVE Driving School Car Sick

Car sickness is a type of motion sickness that makes you feel queasy when you travel on the road by car or other vehicle.

It mostly affects young children and pregnant women who are travelling as passengers, but anyone can suffer from it. In fact, RAC research has found that 18% of people continue to suffer as adults.

Despite numerous studies on the subject, it’s still not clear why some people feel nauseous every time they undertake a car journey while others travel perfectly fine without any ill effects. And even though the problem doesn’t seem to affect most babies and toddlers, children between the ages of two and 12 are particularly vulnerable.

Why does car sickness occur?

Motion sickness is caused by repeated movements, such as going over bumps, when travelling. According to the NHS, it happens when the inner ear, which helps to control balance, transmits different signals to your brain from those your eyes are seeing. Consequently, these confusing mixed messages cause you to feel unwell.

This explains why young children are particularly susceptible. If they’re reading a book or sitting low down in the backseat of a car without being able to see out of the window, their inner ear will sense motion, but their eyes and body won’t.

What are the symptoms of car sickness?

DRIVE Driving School car sick passenger

The signs of motion sickness can vary from person to person but generally include:

– Nausea

– Vomiting

– Cold sweats

– Dizziness

– Increase in saliva

– Drowsiness

– Headache

– Loss of appetite

Symptoms will usually ease once you’ve stopped moving but, in some people, they may carry on for a few hours afterwards.

Where is the best place to sit in a car to prevent car sickness?

Many people say that sitting in the front seat of a car reduces their symptoms, especially during long road trips. This is backed up by RAC research, which found that sitting in the back seat of a car is the worst place for motion sickness for 75% of current sufferers.

Some people, however, find that lying down in the back seat and shutting their eyes eases the feeling of sickness. Leaning your head against the headrest may also help as head movements can exacerbate the problem. The best thing to do is experiment to see which position makes you feel the most comfortable.

Can you prevent car sickness?

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There’s no magic cure for car sickness, but if you or someone you travel with suffers from it, the good news is that there are plenty of self-help techniques you can employ to reduce or prevent the symptoms:

1. Avoid reading or using electronic devices

Visual stimuli such as books, videos and games are best avoided by those prone to travel sickness. If you’re focusing on something up close, the sensory confliction between the inner ear and eyes can make your symptoms worse. Instead, consider switching to audiobooks or games of I-Spy to pass the time.

2. Focus on an object

While travelling, look straight ahead at a fixed point on the horizon to give you something in the distance to focus on. Avoid looking at moving objects such as passing cars.

3. Stick to motorways and A-roads

One of the main reasons for feeling sick on car journeys is travelling on narrow, winding country roads. Wherever possible, keep to wide straight roads and motorways – even if it means going a little out of your way.

4. Avoid heavy meals before travel

Motion sickness can be aggravated by a full stomach, so don’t eat a big meal, spicy foods or drink alcohol shortly before or during travel. Having said that, it’s not a good idea to travel on an empty stomach either as this can also cause nausea. Have a small, bland snack such as dry crackers.

5. Use distraction techniques

Thinking about being sick will only make it worse, so try to keep your mind off how you’re feeling. Switch on the radio or have a stimulating conversation. To distract children, listen to music or sing songs.

Can a blast of cold air prevent car sickness?

DRIVE Driving School car dog

If you start to feel queasy, it’s best to breathe in some fresh air. Try opening a car window or take a break if you’re on a long journey.

If that’s not possible, adequate air ventilation can help. If it’s warm and stuffy in the car, you may benefit from switching on the air conditioning or turning the air vents towards you to blow cool air on your face.

Try to keep the air clear of any pungent odours too, particularly petrol and diesel fumes.

What remedies can you take to prevent motion sickness?

If all else fails, there are effective over-the-counter anti-sickness treatments available from pharmacies that can help to relieve the symptoms of motion sickness. These include dissolvable tablets for all ages and patches that can be worn by adults and children over the age of 10.

Alternatively, travel sickness wristbands may help. This drug-free method involves stimulating the acupressure point on your wrist known as Nei Kuan. The stud on the band applies constant pressure to each wrist to prevent or ease the feeling of nausea.

Your pharmacist will be able to recommend the best treatment for you or your child.

If you want to try a herbal remedy, ginger is said to have anti-sickness properties, which you can take in tablet form, as a biscuit or in a cup of tea.

Avoid caffeinated beverages like coffee as these might contribute to dehydration and make nausea worse.