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On The Move

Most people travelling by air, sea, rail or road are faced with the common problem of motion sickness. Mukesh Batra endeavours to demystify this ailment and suggests precautionary measures

en thousand feet above the ground, amidst white misty clouds with hues of orange and yellow rays of the sun setting in the distance - the perfect vision to relax your mind and body. But as I admired this heavenly sight, I was jolted from my thoughts on hearing an announcement from one of the crew members, “Attention, ladies and gentleman, we are facing air turbulence, kindly fasten your seat belts.” While everybody dutifully went about obeying the direction, my neighbour suddenly clutched my hand and pleaded, “I am feeling dizzy and my head is spinning.” As the turbulence started to toss the aircraft, he began feeling even more miserable. The air hostess offered him a glass of water to mitigate the effect of nausea, but he continued to wretch. I am sure a number of you like me have at some point or the other encountered this situation, either with yourself or somebody you know, and are familiar with this condition known as motion or travel sickness. But what exactly is this state and why does it occur?

Travel sickness may be experienced in any form of travel from a boat ride, or a journey in an airplane, to even an amusement park ride. Even though the above are referred to as air or sea sickness, they are identical and fall under the category of motion sickness. This familiar disturbance of the inner ear is caused by repeated motion such as the tide of the sea, the tempo of a car or the movements of a plane in tumultuous weather. Motion sickness affects the balance and equilibrium of the inner ear, thus, causing all its symptoms. The symptoms of travel sickness include nausea, vomiting, and dizziness (vertigo). Other common signs are sweating and a general feeling of discomfort and uneasiness (malaise). Most symptoms associated with travel sickness stop when the motion comes to a halt. However, sometimes the symptoms may even last a few days after the end of the journey.

The human body has four ways of detecting travel: the inner ears, eyes, skin pressure receptors and the muscle and joint sensory receptors. Travel sickness occurs when the central nervous system receives conflicting messages from these four systems. For example, imagine you’re flying during a storm, and the plane is being tossed about by air turbulence. But, your eyes do not detect all this motion because all you see is the interiors of the aircraft. Consequently, your brain receives messages that do not coordinate with each other. You might become ‘air sick’. Or for instance, you are sitting in the back seat of a moving car reading a book. Your inner ears and skin receptors detect the motion of your travel, but your eyes see only the pages of your book. This could make you ‘car sick’.

Travel sickness could further arise from an actual medical condition. Suppose you suffer an inner ear damage on only one side, the damaged inner ear does not send the same signals to the brain as the healthy ear. These conflicting signals about the sensation of rotation can result in a sense of spinning or vertigo as well as nausea. Such a condition may arise from an injury to the head or even from an infection in the ear.

While some people have suffered motion sickness, others might have a child or family member who is affected by this problem. Hence, if you are prone to motion sickness or are suffering from it, here are some useful suggestions to combat this common problem:

  • Always ride where your eyes will see the same motion that your body and inner ears feel, ie in a car sit in the front seat and look at the distant scenery. If on a boat, go up onto the deck and watch the motion of the horizon. In an airplane, sit at the window and look outside. Additionally, it is advisable to choose a seat at the wings, where the motion is minimal.
  • Try to avoid reading while you travel.
  • While in a train, try to avoid a seat facing backwards.
  • See that you neither eat too much nor too little before you travel. A study conducted shows that people who eat high protein foods before travel are less prone to travel sickness.
  • Intake of liquids is always helpful.
  • In case you are travelling with children, equip yourself with a cold compress. A cologne towel or a pack of ice on the face is always known to help.
  • Try to break your journey into smaller fragments and ensure more frequent stops.
  • Most of all, try to relax.
  • Homeopathically, a few doses of Cocculus 200 taken before and during travel will help control motion sickness.

More often than not, motion sickness is just a minor annoyance (although, it may not feel so minor at the time). However, you can be incapacitated by motion sickness, making your journey a dreaded and horrendous experience. Incorporating the above, can rid you of any discomfort on your next trip.

Bon voyage!

(The author is chairman and managing director, Dr Batra’s Positive Health Clinic, and can be contacted at help@positivehealthclinic.com)