15 motion sickness treatments and how to prevent it

Planning a holiday? It could help to know what motion sickness treatments are available and how to prevent motion sickness.

Three children in the back of a car laughing
Alamy
(Image credit: Alamy/Future)

Planning a trip? If you or a loved one suffer from travel sickness you'll be eager to know what motion sickness treatments are available.

Travel sickness – or motion sickness – can make travelling (or fairground rides, if you enjoy those) a miserable experience. It can occur when you travel by car, boat, plane or train, and as well as feeling nauseous or being sick, people may feel sweaty, dizzy, breathless or drowsy. Many of us think it's a childhood condition – and it's true that it largely affects 2-12 year-olds, which can make travelling with little ones (opens in new tab) even harder. But it's surprisingly common in adults, too.

According to research by the RAC, a fifth of drivers and passengers feel nauseous or sick in a car. That's the equivalent of 7.3 million people in the UK who have unpleasant or disrupted journeys as a result of motion sickness. Three-quarters of those asked said it's worse in the back of a car, (which may explain why children often suffer the most). This is why motion sickness treatments, as well as knowing how to prevent motion sickness, is necessary.

"We’ve probably all experienced travel sickness on some level; whether it’s headaches (opens in new tab) or feeling tired after a long car journey, or experiencing nausea (opens in new tab) after looking at our phone while being swayed side to side on a train," says natural health expert Dr Tim Bond, from Puressentiel. But what causes it? "Travel sickness is caused by a miscommunication between our eyes and brain," he explains. "Our brain is expecting a certain image, yet our eyes relay a different image because of the movement. It can be triggered by all kinds of repeated movements, such as going over bumps in the road, waves in the sea, swaying on a train, or turbulence on the plane.”

15 motion sickness treatments

1. Over-the-counter medication

If you are happy to take tablets, there are some safe and effective options. The medication offered is usually a type of antihistamine.

"These include hyoscine hydrobromide (Kwells), promethazine (Avomine, Phenergan), cinnarizine (Stugeron), or cyclizine (Valoid)," says Dr Deborah Lee, from the Dr Fox Online Pharmacy (opens in new tab). "Of these drugs, promethazine has been shown to be the most effective antihistamine for travel sickness."

How do antihistamines prevent nausea? "Antihistamines are used for travel sickness, not because they prevent the release of histamine, but because they work by blocking acetylcholine receptors," says Dr Lee. "Acetylcholine is the main neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) of the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS). Blocking the acetylcholine receptors disrupts the transmission of impulses from the vestibular nuclei in the brain to the vomiting centre," she explains.

Medication, however, is not suitable for everyone, such as people certain heart, thyroid, kidney, liver or digestive problems. 'They can also have side effects, such as drowsiness, dry mouth, constipation or blurred vision," says Dr Bond. And some cause drowsiness, so if you're driving they won't be suitable. If you want to stay alert during your travels, ask your pharmacist for a non-drowsy option.

2. Prescribed medication

If you have severe symptoms, you will need motion sickness treatments from your GP. One of these is Prochlorperazine.

"This can be used to treat nausea and vomiting. It is an antipsychotic drug which blocks the production of dopamine – another brain neurotransmitter – and also interferes with transmission of nerve impulses to the vomiting centre," explains Dr Lee.

3. Motion sickness patches

If you don't want to take medication by mouth you can try motion sickness patches. While pricer than tablets, they can be very useful.

"Scopolamine is a first-choice option for preventing travel sickness," says Dr Lee. "In a 2004 (opens in new tab) Cochrane review of 12 randomised controlled or parallel-arm studies, including 901 participants, scopolamine was found to be more effective in reducing travel sickness symptoms than the other treatments tested. It was also well tolerated and was no more likely to cause side effects, such as drowsiness or blurred vision," she says.

Usually used to treat muscular spasms, it works in a similar way to antihistamines in that it blocks acetylcholine receptors, which seems to help with certain motion sickness symptoms, says Dr Lee. Try Scopoderm Patches (opens in new tab) (£17.20 for 2). These contain hyoscine hydrobromide, which is another name for scopolamine. While this option sounds expensive, each patch lasts for 72 hours so should see you through the beginning and the end of a trip.

While all the aforementioned medications can be very effective, always tell your GP or pharmacist about any other medication you're taking. For example, there may be drug interactions for those taking medications such as tricyclic antidepressants or antihistamines, warns Dr Lee. Drinking alcohol with motion sickness medication isn't advised, and check with your pharmacist if you're pregnant or breastfeeding, or they're for a child under the age of 10.

4. Ginger

Consuming ginger is a tried-and-tested natural remedy for treating motion sickness. This is because it can ease the stomach and quell nausea.

“Ginger has long been a go-to for settling the stomach and is the best studied herb (opens in new tab) for motion sickness," says Dr Bond. "It's both safe and effective for many people." Next time you travel, try taking a ginger supplement one hour before set off, such as Boots Naturals Ginger (opens in new tab) (£6 for 60 tablets) or Seaband Ginger Capsules (opens in new tab) (Boots, £6.09 for 20 capsules).

Alternatively, fill a flask full of ginger tea to sip – we like Pukka's Organic Three Ginger (opens in new tab) (Waitrose, £3.45 for 20 sachets). Or you could nibble on crystalised ginger (opens in new tab) (Waitrose, £2.50).

5. Boiled sweets

This is one of the motion sickness treatments your granny will probably suggest. If she does, take heed – sucking a boiled sweet can work.

Sucking on sweets may help reduce travel sickness, especially if they contain ginger. "Whether this is due to the ginger (opens in new tab), the effect of sucking, or both, is not known, but some studies have shown ginger is more effective at reducing travel sickness than antihistamines," says Dr Lee. "Ginger increases gastrointestinal (opens in new tab) mobility, accelerates gastric emptying, and reduces dyspeptic symptoms."

With this in mind, if you do choose to suck on a travel sweet, opt for ginger ones, such as The Ginger People's Gin Gins Hard Ginger Candy (opens in new tab) (Holland and Barrett, £4.69 for 150g). If you don't like the taste of ginger, any boiled sweet may help, as the distraction can be beneficial.

6. Chewing gum

Similar to sucking on a boiled sweet, chewing gum can also create a distraction that can take your mind of motion sickness.

"In a 2022 research study, chewing either ginger gum or peppermint gum, during a simulated flight experience, significantly reduced symptoms of travel sickness," says Dr Lee.

What's interesting is that the ginger gum wasn't any better than the peppermint. "Both types of gum had the same effect, suggesting it was the act of chewing rather than the taste which made the difference," she says. Try Peppersmith Peppermint Chewing Gum (opens in new tab) (Holland and Barrett, £3.49 for 50g).

7. Acupressure bands

One of the most well-regarded natural motion sickness treatments is the use of acupressure bands. These work on the pressure points in our wrists to stop feelings of nausea and are another drug-free, non-drowsy way to treat the condition.

"Acupressure bands apply pressure to the PC6 or P6 pressure point. In Chinese medicine, this technique has been used for many years as an anti-sickness treatment," says Dr Lee. "The effectiveness is not really known. In one small 2001 (opens in new tab) study, 25 healthy volunteers were recruited. They wore either an acuband on the wrist, an acuband elsewhere on the arm, or no acuband, and were then subjected to three episodes of possible motion sickness by being placed inside a rotating drum. Those who wore the acuband on the wrist or the arm had significantly less in the way of travel sickness symptoms than those who did not wear any bands," she explains.

Even if they work by placebo, these bands are worth trying. But, warns Dr Lee, it's important to follow the instructions carefully so the bands are over the correct pressure points. Try Sea-Band's Nausea Relief Acupressure Bands (opens in new tab) (£7.99, Amazon).

If you haven't managed to buy a pair you can do it yourself. “There is an acupressure point along your wrist called the nei-kuan. Applying pressure on this point with your fingers may give some relief," says Dr Bond.

To locate the nei-kuan, SeaBand (opens in new tab) suggests the following: 'place your middle three fingers on the inside of your wrist with the edge of the third finger just below the first wrist crease. The nei-kuan point is located underneath your first (index) finger in-between the two wrist tendons.'

Sea-Bands acupuncture bands

(Image credit: Sea-Bands)

8. Aromatherapy

Certain natural scents are believed to help calm some of the symptoms of motion sickness. Peppermint and lavender are thought to be particularly effective, while inhaling these scents can also be a great distraction from being in motion.

"Plants have been prized for their medicinal properties for millennia, and even now around 10% of the drugs (opens in new tab) the World Health Organization considers essential are derived from plants," says Dr Bond.

He continues: "There is also clinical research supporting the use of peppermint for both motion sickness and nausea (opens in new tab), and lavender has many studies to show its efficacy on digestion, vomiting and travel sickness."

One option is Puressentiel’s excellent SOS Travel Roll-On (opens in new tab) (£9.99, Puressential), which contains oils to help prevent and discourage travel sickness. "Each oil is selected for their anti-sickness and calming properties – exotic basil, fresh ginger, lemon, peppermint, red mandarin, sweet marjoram, and true lavender," says Dr Bond. "The roller is applied to wrists and temple pressure points."

9. Dry toast or crackers

You may not feel like eating if you know travelling makes you feel sick. But having a small, plain snack before – or while – you travel can keep nausea at bay.

"Have a light, healthy meal before you set off," says Dr Lee. "And then it's generally advisable to eat small portions of light foods at regular intervals when travelling. Dry foods (opens in new tab) such as crackers, oat biscuits, or rice cakes are good options as they have no smell, help fill the stomach, and can reduce nausea." Nibbling on a ginger biscuit (opens in new tab) can also work.

10. The BRAT diet

If you're prone to nausea, certain food and drink can cause gastrointestinal discomfort, so opt for plain foods such as the ones in the BRAT diet.

"Avoid large, fatty meals, or spicy foods," says Dr Lee. "These can trigger digestive symptoms including nausea," she warns. Drinking alcohol (opens in new tab) before you travel can also make you more susceptible to an upset stomach.

Aside from ginger-based food and fluids, try the BRAT diet. BRAT stands for bananas (opens in new tab), rice, apple sauce and toast. It's what doctors recommend after a vomiting bug or upset stomach. These bland foods are easy to digest and don't smell much, so they won't overtax a queasy stomach.

11. Sip fluids

Dehydration can contribute to feelings of nausea, so sipping fluids is another way to prevent motion sickness.

These need to be the right sorts of fluids, however, and they should be sipped not gulped. Room temperature water or sparkling water is best, but if you can stomach it sports drinks, coconut water, ginger ale, and light broths are all preferable to caffeinated drinks such as tea, coffee and cola, acidic drinks such as fresh orange juice, or alcohol.

12. Chamomile tea

Chamomile has a reputation for being a calming and relaxing herb. By helping to reduce stress and anxiety it can also settle an upset stomach.

Chamomile (opens in new tab) is also something some people opt for to settle their stomachs, particularly if they are feeling anxious or stressed," says Dr Bond. "Chamomile is believed to soothe the stomach, reduce acids and relax stomach muscles."

Try having a cup of chamomile tea the night before your travels to relax you, then another in the morning and during your trip if possible. We like Teapigs Chamomile Tea (opens in new tab) (£3.99 for 15). Unlike a lot of teabags, they're biodegradable.

13. Deep breathing

Breathing exercises (opens in new tab) are becoming an important part of wellness, as people realise how much deep breathing can reduce anxiety (opens in new tab), stress, panic and even physical symptoms such as nausea.

Research seems to back this up. One study (opens in new tab) found that breathing deeply from the belly (known as diaphragmatic breathing) was effective at reducing the sensation of motion sickness during a virtual reality experience of being on a boat in rough seas for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, another study (opens in new tab) found that 'breathing exercise reduced chemotherapy-induced nausea, vomiting and retching in breast cancer patients.' While this is a different source of nausea, it indicates that deep breathing is a useful tool for managing feelings of sickness.

Because feeling sick can make our stomach tense up, a breathing exercise, such as this one recommended by Dr Bond, can calm us and our tummies.

14. Distractions

If you'd rather not take anything, it's heartening to know that simply being distracted has been shown to reduce symptoms. Talking, listening to music, playing a game (opens in new tab) or even singing songs can take your mind of motion sickness.

Dr Lee cites one particular study which indicates the efficacy of distraction. "In one small 2015 study, 18 participants were blindfolded and underwent 20 minutes of rotation, as well as experiencing a vibrating headrest. They were distracted in some of these episodes by performing a mental arithmetic task. The vibrating head rest reduced travel sickness symptoms by 25%, and the distraction task reduced these symptoms by 19%," she says.

Dr Lee recommends auditory distraction. Listening to an audiobook or some gentle music such as classical can help. "Shut your eyes and concentrate on the sound. This is taking the visual cues out of the equation. Listening to the sound helps induce relaxation and feelings of calmness," she advises.

15. Smart glasses

These unusual-looking glasses have no lenses. Instead, they use a liquid inside the frame of the glasses to mimic the horizon. Focusing on the horizon is a well-known method for preventing motion sickness, especially on boats.

"Smart glasses are made up of four circular shapes, one in front of each eye and one on each side of the head, in the lateral portion of the field of vision," explains Dr Lee. "There is fluid, partially filling each ring, which moves up and down during motion. The idea is that the glasses create a false horizon," she explains.

If you want the glasses to be backed up by science you're out of luck. "Although this sounds like a great idea, there are no published medical studies to show these are effective in preventing travel sickness," says Dr Lee.

However, if you're willing to trust the five-star reviews on Amazon, trying a pair could be worth a shot. Try Hion's Anti-Motion Sickness Smart Glasses (opens in new tab) (£16.99, Amazon).

Hion smart glasses

(Image credit: Hion)

5 ways to prevent motion sickness

1. Keep your eyes on the horizon

Keeping your eyes on the horizon is easier to do on a boat, but it can be done on other modes of transport, too.

"Don’t look at moving objects, such as passing cars or rolling waves," says Dr Bond. This will make your nausea worse. "Instead, sit in the front of the car or the middle of a boat as it can reduce the motion."

If you're travelling by plane, try to reserve a seat by a window. This is so you can be distracted by what's outside, or you can watch the horizon. A window over the wings, where there is less motion, is also a good idea.

And if at any point you start to feel sick "look straight ahead at a fixed point" recommends Dr Bond. Watch the scenery in the distance, for instance.

2. Get some fresh air

Although there is no scientific evidence for this, it stands to reason that a stuffy enviroment won't help symptoms. Therefore, as soon as you're in a car open a window. If you're on a boat, spend as much time as possible outside on the deck, or near an open door or window.

If you're travelling by plane or train it can be harder to get fresh air. A handheld fan can work wonders at keeping you cool and calm. EasyAcc's Handheld Mini Portable Outdoor Fan (opens in new tab) (£17.99, Amazon), which comes with a recharageable battery, gets rave reviews.

3. Don't read or watch anything

Not reading or watching anything is probably one of the most important drug-free motion sickness treatments. This is because of the way your brain perceives motion.

"When you read in a car (opens in new tab), your eyes are focused on the page and are telling your body you are sitting still," says Dr Lee. "But your peripheral vision, your ears and other receptors are well aware this is not the case. When the brain senses a mismatch, you start to feel sick and unwell," she explains.

This also applies to watching something or a screen and even texting (sorry, kids!). If you are very bored, only read or watch something for a few minutes at a time, then take a break to stare at a fixed point.

4. Break up the journey

Regular stops, where you have a chance to stand on solid ground, can help to break up the monotony of long journeys. A rest stop also allows you to get fresh air, stretch your legs or have a drink or a snack. You will be away from the motion of travel for a while and distracted by other activities.

5. Try to sleep

If you're not a napper, you're not tired, or you're driving, this won't work for you. But if at all possible try to fall asleep as soon as you're travelling. Not tired? Simply closing your eyes can be a distraction from the motion.

For children who suffer badly from motion sickness, it may be worth travelling at night. This way they'll sleep through most of the trip.