Treating motion sickness 

Treatments for motion sickness can range from self-care advice to medicines and complementary therapies, like acupressure bands.

Self-care

You may be able to relieve the symptoms of motion sickness by using the self-care techniques below. 

  • Minimise head and body movements - If possible, choose a seat or cabin in the middle of a boat or plane because this is where you will experience the least movement. Using a pillow or a headrest may help keep your head as still as possible.
  • Fix your vision on a stable object - For example, look at the horizon. Do not read or play games because this may make your symptoms worse. Closing your eyes may help relieve symptoms. 
  • Get some fresh air - If possible, open the windows or move to the top deck of a ship to get a good supply of fresh air. Avoid getting too hot.
  • Relax - Relax by listening to music while focusing on your breathing or carrying out a mental activity, such as counting backwards from 100.
  • Food and drink - Avoid eating large meals or drinking alcohol before travelling.
  • Stay calm - Keep calm about the journey. You may be more likely to experience motion sickness if you worry about it.

Medication

Several medications can be used to treat motion sickness. However, as motion sickness delays digestion, your body will not absorb medication as well if you take it when you already have symptoms. It is usually better to take medication before your journey to prevent symptoms developing.

Hyoscine

Hyoscine, also known as scopolamine, is widely used to treat motion sickness. It is thought to work by blocking some of the nerve signals sent from the vestibular system in your inner ear that can cause nausea and vomiting (see causes of motion sickness for more information about the vestibular system).

Hyoscine is available over the counter from pharmacists. For it to be effective, you will need to take hyoscine before you travel. If you are about to go on a long journey, such as a sea journey, hyoscine patches can be applied to your skin every three days.

Common side effects of hyoscine include:

  • drowsiness
  • blurred vision
  • dry mouth 
  • dizziness
  • constipation 

Due to these side effects, never take hyoscine if you are going on a car journey and plan to drive for all or part of the way.

Rarer side effects of hyoscine include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • mental confusion, particularly in elderly people 

Hyoscine should be used with caution in children and elderly people. It should also be used with caution if you have:

If any of the above applies to you, consult your GP or pharmacist before taking hyoscine.

Antihistamines

Antihistamines are an alternative type of medicine to hyoscine. They are often used to treat symptoms of allergies, but can also control nausea and vomiting. Antihistamines are slightly less effective at treating motion sickness than hyoscine, but may cause fewer side effects.

There are several different types of antihistamines, including some that cause drowsiness. Antihistamines used to treat motion sickness that cause drowsiness include: 

  • promethazine
  • cyclizine
  • cinnarizine

These are usually taken as tablets one or two hours before your journey. If it is a long journey, you may need to take a dose every eight hours.

As well as drowsiness, these medicines may also cause: 

Complementary therapies

Several complementary therapies have been suggested for motion sickness, although the evidence for their effectiveness is mixed.

Ginger

It has been suggested that taking ginger supplements may help prevent symptoms of motion sickness. Ginger is sometimes used for other types of nausea, such as morning sickness during pregnancy.

There is little research specifically into the use of ginger to treat motion sickness, but ginger does have a long history of being used as a remedy for nausea and vomiting. Some studies that investigated the use of ginger for motion sickness found a benefit, while others found no benefit at all.

As well as ginger supplements, many other ginger products are available, including ginger biscuits and ginger tea. If you use ginger products, buy them from a reputable source, such as a pharmacist or supermarket. Before taking ginger supplements, check with your GP that they will not affect any other medication you may be taking.

In some cases, ginger can cause mild side effects, such as diarrhoea and heartburn.

Acupressure bands

Acupressure bands are stretchy bands worn around your wrists. They apply pressure to a particular point on the inside of your wrist between the two tendons that run down your inner arm.

Some complementary therapists have claimed that using an acupressure band can be an effective method of treating motion sickness.

However, there is little research into acupressure bands used specifically to treat motion sickness.

Find your local pharmacies.

Page last reviewed: 03/12/2012

Next review due: 03/12/2014