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Combating motion sickness while driving

Published:Sunday | April 18, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Laranzo Dacres, Gleaner Writer

Getting motion or 'car' sickness while driving can take the fun out of travelling and leave you with feelings of dizziness and nausea.

Dr Halda 'Hal' Shaw, ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist, describes motion sickness as being a mild-to-moderate and sometimes even severe form of imbalance or dizziness caused by a mix-up of signals going to the higher centres within the brain.

"There are two fundamental laws within balance. One, we need impulses going in from the posterior column, the visual from the eye and the vestibular system found in the inner ear and also from the cerebellum in the brain," Dr Shaw explained.

"Those from the cerebellum are negative inputs and those from the other three are the positive inputs. To maintain balance we need signals going to the brain from any two of the three positives and we must have the one negative from the cerebellum. The second law states that they must all agree about the movement of the body. In other words, one cannot say you are moving and the other says you are not moving. If there is that conflict, it makes the individual very dizzy and this will cause motion sickness," he added.

"As we are driving, sometimes through peripheral vision we can see objects outside just flying by and the impulse going to the brain is that we are moving. Then, if for some reason the impulses going from those parts of the body that are resting on the seat of the car send a signal to the brain that we are not moving, it gives the feeling of dizziness," Dr Shaw told Automotives.

Number of stimuli

Motion sickness has a very wide scope as there are a number of stimuli that can trigger the condition in an individual, including the playing of computer simulation video games, but as far as travelling goes, the more common stimuli are the sway of a ship on the open seas, travelling on a turbulent flight and driving vehicles on bumpy roads.

Marvia Cole, a supervisor of a company in the corporate area, says she experiences motion sickness whenever she travels with her husband on long journeys, but explained that it was not the long journey itself but the constant manoeuvring of the vehicle around corners and winding roads that brings about the condition.

"If the car is going around the corners too fast or jerks due to the bumpiness of the roads, I tend to get a little dizzy and nauseous and a lot of times I vomit," Cole said. "My husband drives an Evolution 10 and the slamming of the gear causes it as well, so I either tell him to slow down or I try to avoid situations where I have to be driven."

Affected as a passenger

Cole conceded that she is only affected by motion sickness whenever she is the passenger in a vehicle. She said, "When I am the driver there is no problem whatsoever! If I am going on a long journey and I have no choice but to be the passenger, I try not to eat anything so that if I should vomit there would be nothing to come up," she said.

Dr Shaw explained that while the driver of the vehicle keeps eyes fixed on the road and the environs, passengers do not have that concentrated focus. This can result in them becoming dizzy which, if stimulated long enough, can result in the passenger vomiting as the vomiting centre is also linked to the visual centre within the brain.

"Passengers do not have that concentrated focus on the road many times and when they are seeing objects moving outside through their peripheral vision, that is what triggers the motion sickness at times," he said.

Marsha-Ann Blackburne, an office manager, also stated that she is only affected by motion sickness when she travels as a passenger and noted that it makes a considerable difference when the driver drives slowly around corners. Also, "If I close my eyes when I'm being driven, I am okay", Blackburne said.


Motion sickness can be very uncomfortable but there are a few techniques and remedies that can help combat most if not all of the stimuli, leaving you travelling in comfort in no time.

According to Dr Shaw, one way of combating the occurrence of motion sickness is if a passenger focuses his eyes specifically on objects on the road ahead or on an object in the car. This will drastically reduce the chances of triggering the sickness.

Focus on a specified spot

The technique of focusing on a specified spot while moving or rotating is similar to that used by professional ice skaters to avoid getting dizzy.

Passengers should try to sit in positions that allows them to see outside.

There are medicines available to persons who need help with motion sickness, but pharmacological studies in humans have revealed that ginger is a potent treatment for the ailment. Local dieticians have advised persons to keep a piece of peeled ginger root in their mouths while travelling. This has been a successful strategy for many persons suffering from motion sickness.

Additionally, some believe that the application of pressure on a point of the forearm can relieve motion sickness. The point is located about two inches above the wrist. One can apply pressure to it by using the opposite hand or through wearing a special wristband known as a 'sea band'. The band comes equipped with a bead that applies pressure to the point.