Travel sickness

Travel Sickness and Ears: how are they related?

Travel sickness can easily dampen interest in traveling. We all know someone who gets nauseous even at the thought of taking a long car or boat trip ! Luckily, there are several solutions that can make travel more pleasant.


What causes travel sickness?

Travel sickness (or cinesis or motion sickness) is caused by a contradiction in the movement information perceived by our sensory organs: our eyes, inner ear and muscular system. The inner ear has three semicircular canals filled with crystals and fluid. Tilting the head moves the crystals, stimulating the sensory cells on the canal walls. These cells permanently keep the brain aware of the exact position of the head and its movements to set off the reactions needed to keep the body’s balance.

When we move “actively,” that is when propelled by our own body, our brain anticipates the coherent combinations between the images, the movements detected by the inner ear and the muscular system. When using a means of transportation (boat, plane, train, car), we are only sitting, so we are moving “passively.” This jumbles up everything! Our position and the images and movements detected by the inner ear are no longer synchronized and don’t match the combinations our brain usually anticipates. In people who are sensitive to this, this conflict of perception can cause motion sickness. This conflict of perception can even occur during simulated movement. For example, during a speed simulation the video game or movie depicts speed through images, but the body doesn’t feel the acceleration.


Symptoms of travel sickness

According to several researchers, it appears that our brain assimilates the conflict of sensory perception to a hallucination that is usually caused by poisoning. The body then sets off an effective anti-poison reflex so it can return to its usual state of alertness as quickly as possible. The response includes:

  • Nausea and vomiting;
  • Perspiring heavily;
  • Fatigue and sleepiness;
  • Dizziness and balance problems;
  • Paleness;
  • Excessive salivation.


Precautions and treatments

Before leaving:

  • Be sure to eat a good meal and be well hydrated (water);
  • Avoid fatty meals;
  • Avoid alcohol and coffee;
  • Rest.

During the trip:

  • Avoid reading and writing;
  • Take deep breaths;
  • Avoid loud music;
  • Get fresh air;
  • Take breaks to move your legs;
  • Look out the window at a fixed point that is far away;
  • Stay hydrated.

There are several medication that can prevent or relieve travel sickness. Consult your pharmacist or doctor for more information.



Can we adapt to travel sickness?

Research shows that in nearly everyone prolonged exposure to a moving stimulus leads to a decrease in, and even the disappearance of, symptoms. Vestibular kinesitherapy (vestibular reeducation) is an effective treatment that solves the problem for many patients. Concretely, the eyes are exposed to an array of visual information to get the body used to reacting correctly to these images when moving. It takes several sessions to decrease motion sickness for the long term. Discuss the treatment further with a general physician or an ear, nose and throat specialist.

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