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Keep Motion Sickness at Bay with These 5 Pro Tips

Don’t let motion sickness get in the way of your next travel plans with these pro tips.

Woman in car experiencing motion sickness

Many Malaysians enjoy the seasonal trek back to their hometowns during major holidays such as Chinese New Year and Hari Raya. However, many will also dread the motion sickness that is experienced while traveling whether by car, boat, or airplane.

Motion sickness stems from a sensory confusion in the brain that cascades into bodily sensations and effects that make us feel sick. Fortunately, it is preventable as well as treatable.

What Causes Motion Sickness

Woman in car experiencing motion sickness
Motion sickness stems from confusion between motion sensory perception in the brain and the eyes, triggering effects in the rest of the body such as nausea and vomiting.

Your brain perceives information and stimuli from your inner ear and tells the rest of the body where you are spatially – whether we are upright or upside down, stationary or moving. When this information matches the visual sensory and stimuli through your eyes, all is well and good.

In modern travel, confusion may arise. For example, when your body is in motion while sitting in a moving car, your eyes will perceive items inside the car as stationary. The disorientation activates the vomit centre in the brain and sets off symptoms of motion sickness that affect much of the body. This includes dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headaches, sweating, irritability, and a general feeling of illness.

The onset of motion sickness can be sudden, and some people may be more prone to it than others. Women tend to experience it more than men, and children more than adults. Those with a history of migraine headaches are also more likely to suffer from motion sickness. In some individuals, prolonged experiencing of the form of travel that initially causes motion sickness may in time result in adaptation, leading to improvement in the condition. 

How TCM Explains Motion Sickness 

TCM has historically made the connection between the brain, eyes, and vital organs like the Liver when it comes to understanding the mechanism of motion sickness.

Physician Peh Wei Jie, a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner, explains that from a TCM point of view, “The body’s energies (qi) are imbalanced due to the unusual repetitive movements. The symptoms of nausea and vomiting is often due to the reverse flow of the Stomach qi, which is supposed to descend when the body is at a balanced and relaxed state.” 

“When there is Excessive Phlegm and Dampness in the body, motion sickness might occur as well, presenting with dizziness, nausea as well as chest tightness and headaches. This often stems from a Deficiency in the Spleen, as the function of transporting body fluids is impaired.”  

How to Address and Prevent Motion Sickness 

The following five tips can be kept in mind when you plan your next trip. They encompass an understanding of what triggers motion sickness in those who are more susceptible to it.

1. Optimise your visual spatial comfort 

One of the best ways to avoid motion sickness or to alleviate the symptoms is by being deliberate about what you’re looking at and where you sit in a vehicle.

“During a ride, one should refrain from using their mobile devices or reading books, and instead focus their gaze on an object in the distance. Make sure to roll down the windows in cars and improve the ventilation in the environment wherever possible. In rides where seats can be selected, pick a seat near the windows and preferably in the middle of the ride where the repetitive motions are felt minimally. By correcting these actions, the effects of motion sickness can be kept to a minimal,” advises Physician Peh.

Girl in car looking outside window
Try focusing your gaze on a distant object instead of reading to alleviate feelings of motion sickness.

2. Keep things simple for your stomach 

Try not to overburden your digestive system when you’re getting ready to go on a trip. “There are certain lifestyle and diet changes one can perform when they are prone to having motion sickness. For instance, heavy meals and greasy, spicy foods should be avoided, including alcohol or drug intake,” Physician Peh says.

“Excessive alcoholism or consumption of fatty and oily foods leads to the accumulation of Phlegm and impairs Spleen function as well. When Phlegm obstructs the flow of qi to the head, symptoms such as dizziness and nausea can result more frequently. For the elderly, as the Kidneys govern the body essence (精), which nourishes the brain, weakened functions will cause reduced nourishment to the head and brain, resulting in higher susceptibility to such symptoms.” 

3. Take anti-motion sickness medication the right way 

If you’re up for trying it, you can take anti-motion sickness medicines such as dimenhydrinate. The key, however, is to take it shortly before the trip begins and before the motion sickness sets in. Other than oral medication, there is also the scopolamine skin patch that can be applied to the hairless part of the skin behind the ear about four hours prior to travel, to be left in place for about three days.

As with other medication or drugs, substances in these medicines interact with receptors in the body and inhibit certain bodily processes that present as symptoms of motion sickness.

Candied ginger root in wooden spoon
Candied ginger root is a popular herbal food that has been shown to help with motion sickness.

4. Try herbal remedies 

“Certain TCM herbs also have functions to reduce nausea and dizziness, such as ginger and peppermint. For those who frequently experience motion sickness, candied ginger slices can be brought along for convenience or ginger-flavoured tea or peppermint sweets. Such herbs are often included in the personalised TCM formularies prescribed when you consult a licensed TCM physician. Take ginger in moderation, especially if you’re on blood-thinners such as warfarin or aspirin,” suggests Physician Peh.

5. Palpate acupressure points 

TCM also offers another modality that can help resolve motion sickness – acupressure. Physician Peh shares that there are useful acupoints which can be pressed when symptoms such as dizziness, increased perspiration, or fatigue kick in.

One such acupoint is nei guan (PC6, 内关), which is commonly used to alleviate nausea and vomiting. It can also help to reduce chest tightness and relax heart palpitations. Located on the inner wrist, the acupoint is about three finger widths from the base of the wrist and between the two tendons in the wrist. One can press this spot firmly up to a minute while engaging in slow breathing. Currently, there are many acupressure wristbands targeting this acupoint as well.

One other acupoint is he gu (LI4, 合谷), found on the webbing between the thumb and the index finger. It is commonly used to relieve headaches and many other discomfort and pain issues within the body. Pressure can be applied in the similar way and frequency here, which can help to alleviate indigestion as well. “However, do note that this acupoint should not be stimulated for pregnant women,” Physician Peh reminds.

Motion sickness doesn’t have to be a fact of life, and you don’t have to be that person who gets sick when it comes to planning trips. With enough preparation and forethought, you can travel comfortably.

References

  1. Department of Health, State Government of Victoria, Australia. 2014. Motion Sickness. [Accessed 16 May 2022]. 
  2. Cleveland Clinic. 2021. Motion Sickness. [Accessed 16 May 2022]. 
  3. Cleveland Clinic – Health Essentials. 2020. Motion Sickness: Best Fixes If Traveling Makes You Ill.  [Accessed 16 May 2022]. 
  4. Frontiers in Neurology. 2017. A Historical View of Motion Sickness—A Plague at Sea and on Land, Also with Military Impact. [Accessed 16 May 2022]. 
  5. Current Therapeutic Research. 2020. Clinical Evaluation of the Use of Ginger Extract in the Preventive Management of Motion Sickness. [Accessed 16 May 2022]. 
  6. Experimental Brain Research. 2022. Chewing gum reduces visually induced motion sickness. [Accessed 16 May 2022]. 

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