Motion sickness: Why some people feel sick when travelling in a vehicle

The feeling of being sick while in a moving vehicle is called kinetosis or motion sickness. 

Photo credit: SHUTTERSTOCK

What you need to know:

  • The feeling of being sick while in a moving vehicle is called kinetosis or motion sickness.
  • It may affect you when in any moving object such as a car, a train, an aeroplane, an elevator, a carousel, or when moving on water. It can also happen with simulations and virtual reality systems

Hello Healthy Nation,

Whenever I am in a moving vehicle, I feel dizzy and nauseated, and I may also experience abdominal discomfort and vomiting. This is embarrassing, especially when I am travelling with people I know. Is there anything that I can do? Tom

Dear Tom,

The feeling of being sick while in a moving vehicle is called kinetosis or motion sickness. It may affect you when in any moving object such as a car, a train, an aeroplane, an elevator, a carousel, or when moving on water. It can also happen with simulations and virtual reality systems.

Kinetosis occurs because of disparity in the sensory information getting to the body’s balance system that is the eyes, the inner ear and the brain through some sensory nerves. For example, when in virtual reality simulation, the eyes see the movement but the body’s position sensor cannot feel the movement, or in the back seat of a car or below deck on a ship, your inner ear senses the motion but the eyes cannot see movement. This inter-sensory conflict triggers a stress reaction, which activates the autonomic nervous system. As a result, the individual may experience drowsiness, yawning, reduced alertness, headache, cold sweat, hyper-salivation, nausea and vomiting. These symptoms usually disappear soon after the motion stops or within 24 hours.

To manage it, on land travel, look in the direction of travel, and look forward and outward; reduce movement of the head and focus on the horizon or at a fixed point straight ahead. You can tilt your head during turns to synchronise movement. Maintain good ventilation and distract yourself with conversation or music, and take breaks along the journey by walking around. If watching the horizon is not possible, close your eyes and breathe deeply and slowly, while minimising head movements. On an airplane, sitting over the wing may be helpful as well as amid ship when travelling on water. Avoid reading or using screens while in motion, avoid heavy meals or alcohol just before travel and avoid looking at moving objects such as other cars. Ginger and Vitamin C may help reduce nausea.

There are some medications that may be used to reduce symptoms, taken 30 minutes to one hour before travel such as antihistamines which reduce kinetosis, meclizine, dimenhydrinate or cinnarizine; or anti-nausea medicine like ondansetron.

Dear doctor,

My 22-year-old daughter is very thin. For several years now, she rarely eats, and when she does, she eats too little. She keeps complaining about her weight even though she is so thin and most of her clothes do not fit her. I am worried about her health, but I do not know where to begin.

Please help


Dear Mary,

Your daughter is likely to be suffering from anorexia, an eating disorder. Eating disorders are disorders that include harmful eating behaviours and problems with how the individual thinks about food, and in some, about weight and/or body shape. Eating disorders can lead to serious challenges with physical and mental health.

With anorexia, there is avoidance of food or taking very small amounts of food so as to avoid gaining weight. The individual is obsessed with how they look and how much they weigh, and they may weigh themselves repeatedly. Even when the individual is underweight, they still see themselves as being overweight or obese. The person may also take up other measures to reduce weight including excessive exercise or using diet assistance. There are two types of anorexia:

1) Restrictive type – the person severely restricts the amount and/or type of food they take

2) Binge-purge type – there may be food restriction in addition to episodes of binge eating followed by induced vomiting or using laxatives to cause diarrhoea or using diuretics to cause excessive urination.

Anorexia is usually accompanied by poor self-esteem, depression and anxiety. The restricted feeding can lead to very low body weight, weakness, fatigue, fainting episodes, anaemia, feeling cold, thinning of the bones, muscle wasting, constipation, brittle hair and nails, dry skin, loss of menstrual periods (secondary amenorrhoea), reduced fertility, damage to the heart, brain, and other organs, and multi-organ failure. There’s a high risk of severe complications from starvation, including death, and also a high risk of suicide.

Treatment for anorexia may include psychotherapy, nutritional counselling or medical intervention. Psychotherapy may include individual, group and family therapy, and social support is vitally important. Medical interventions may include addressing complications of the starvation and other supportive treatments, in addition to medication for any underlying disorders like depression or anxiety. The management team includes the doctor, the nutritionist, the psychologist, the psychiatrist, the family, and the individual with the eating disorder. Anorexia can be treated, with support from all the team members.

Doc, Please shed light on the area of medicine known as orthopaedics.

Alnashir Walji

Orthopaedics refers to the speciality in medicine that deals with the musculo-skeletal system: that is, the tissues that hold up the body and allows us to move. The musculo-skeletal system includes the bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments,joints and nerves. The problems in this body system may include congenital disorders like club feet and spine deformities; injuries that may cause wounds, tears and fractures; infections like septic arthritis and osteomyelitis; inflammatory disorders affecting the system; and tumours among others. In addition to these, they also address any concerns that arise from posture and daily movement.

The specialists who practice orthopaedics are called orthopaedic surgeons, and they undergo speciality training for the same. They examine, diagnose and treat orthopaedic conditions, where treatment may include medication, surgery or use of orthopaedic devices. They also advise on prevention and rehabilitation of orthopaedic conditions. There are many sub-specialities within the field of orthopaedics, attending to specific areas of the body (such as hand and wrist surgeons), specific disease conditions (orthopaedic oncology) or different populations (paediatric orthopaedic surgery).

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