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Feeling car sick – How to manage motion sickness

It happens sometimes. You are on the road and suddenly one of your passengers tell you they need to throw up. Or you could be that passenger who dreads sitting in a car because you can’t stomach the thought of feeling dizzy or nauseated.

Car sickness, also known as motion sickness, can turn an otherwise routine drive or enjoyable journey into a miserable experience for some people. Whether you are commuting to work or embarking on a road trip, the symptoms of car sickness – nausea, dizziness and general discomfort – can quickly dampen your spirits.

Before we go into some tips to help you manage the discomfort, let’s look at why people get car sick.

What causes car sickness?

Car sickness occurs when the movement that your eyes see, is different from what your inner ear (used for balance), body and muscles are sensing. This sends mixed signals to the brain. It does not know if you are moving or stationary. This can cause you to feel dizzy and or even throw up.

Children tend to experience motion sickness more because their young ears work better. As we get older, we tend to lose inner ear function, hence adults don’t get car sick as quickly or frequently as young kids.

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Impact of driving styles on car sickness

While car sickness is commonly associated with factors like motion, visibility, and inner ear balance, the driving style of the person behind the wheel can also play a significant role in exacerbating symptoms.

Certain driving behaviours, such as rapid or frequent braking, sudden accelerations, as well as constant and unnecessary turning of the steering wheel, can disrupt the body’s equilibrium and increase feelings of nausea and discomfort for passengers. If you are the driver responsible, please adjust your driving style.

How to deal with car sickness

If you are not the driver and experience car sickness, there are a few ways to mitigate the discomfort. These include looking out at the horizon, minimising head movements, and getting out of the car or winding the window for some fresh air.

1. Focus on the horizon

One way to manage feeling car sick is to look up and look out while you are in motion. Keep the eyes focused on the distance and look at a fixed point such as the horizon. This helps to match what your eyes see to the movement you are feeling, thereby reducing the likelihood car sickness.

Avoid reading, looking at your phone or at things close to you while inside a moving vehicle. Parents with young children may want to reconsider letting your little ones play with electronic devices if they are prone to car sickness. If they are playing with the phone or tablet, have frequent stops for them get out for fresh air or to look out of the window. This will give their eyes and brain a chance to adjust.

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Look into the distance if you are feeling queasy.

2. Sit in front

One of the easiest ways to manage car sickness is to sit in the front seat of the car, and look in the direction that you are moving towards. The front seat provides a better view of the road, which helps to reduce the conflicting signals that the brain receives. That is why fewer drivers get sick behind the wheel.

Sitting in the back of a car can worsen the feeling of car sickness as you have less visibility of the road ahead. When passengers can’t see the road clearly, their brains may struggle to match the motion they feel with the lack of visual information.

Passengers in the back seats may also experience more motion sensations because the rear of the car tends to sway more, especially during turns or sudden stops. They may also feel that they have less control over the car’s movement compared to the driver or front-seat passengers. This lack of control can contribute to feelings of discomfort and nausea.

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3. Minimise head movements

The inner ear plays an important role in maintaining our balance and spatial orientation. When it receives conflicting signals due to erratic head movements, it can lead to motion sickness.

If you are feeling car sick, keep your head as still as possible and avoid sudden or rapid movements. This means minimising activities like checking your phone, or turning your head frequently to talk to others in the car.

Face forward and lean back onto your seat if you are feeling the onset of nausea. Use a pillow or the headrest to reduce unnecessary head movements. You can also take deep breaths and relax by listening to music.

4. Let in some fresh air or take a break

A hot and stuffy environment can make your car sickness worse. Adjust the air-conditioning to increase the airflow in the car and make sure the cabin temperature is cool and comfortable.

Fresh air can help to alleviate the symptoms of car sickness. When possible, wind down the windows and take deep breaths slowly.

If you or your passengers are on a long road trip, take regular breaks and get out of the car to stretch those legs and get some fresh air. This can help to reduce feelings of nausea and giddiness.

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Step out of the car for some fresh air if you are feeling really sick

5. Get rid of strong smells

Ever got into a car that stank of stale cigarette smoke that makes you gag immediately?

Strong smells such as cigarette smoke, heavy perfume or even that char kway teow full of wok-hei that you have ta pao-ed, can trigger or exacerbate car sickness. Wind down the car windows to dispel the strong odours.

The same can be said for air fresheners that are overly cloying as it can make you gag. The fragrance in some air fresheners may also contain excessive amounts of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) that can irritate your eyes and nose, and trigger headaches and feelings of nausea.

If you really need to smoke, do yourself or your passengers a favour by pulling over at a safe spot for a short while. And lay off that overly strong car air freshener.

Woman eating in a car

6. Avoid heavy meals or alcohol

So, having that char kway teow might not be a great idea.

Eating a heavy or oily meal before travelling can increase the chances of motion sickness. If you are hungry during the drive, eat small amounts of food and stick to light fare such as crackers or toast. It goes without saying that you should avoid alcohol, but limit your intake of caffeinated beverages as well. Stay hydrated by drinking water instead.

7. Try natural remedies

Natural remedies such as ginger have been used traditionally to prevent car sickness. Sucking on ginger candy-flavoured lozenges, for example, may help reduce that feeling of nausea. You can also try using essential oils such as peppermint or lavender to help calm your stomach.

If the above tips do not work, you may have to consider speaking to your doctor for medication to manage your car sickness.

Be well on your way

Car sickness can be a frustrating and uncomfortable experience. However, by implementing simple yet effective techniques like focusing on the horizon, sitting in the front seat, and minimising head movements, you can significantly alleviate the discomfort of motion sickness.

Additionally, maintaining a comfortable environment with fresh air and avoiding strong smells and heavy meals can further ease your symptoms. Embracing natural remedies like ginger or essential oils may also provide relief for some individuals.

Remember, prevention is key, but if symptoms persist, don’t hesitate to consult your doctor for additional guidance or medication options.

With these tips, may your future car rides be filled with enjoyment and adventure. Safe travels!


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