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What Causes Motion Sickness?

Motion sickness is frequently called travel sickness, car sickness, and even seasickness , as it commonly occurs in people who are riding on a boat. The truth is that any form of motion can trigger this illness, including being on a swing and novelty rides at the carnival.

If you've never experienced motion sickness, you are very lucky. According to the Centers for Disease Control, all of us will eventually experience the illness if we are subjected to enough motion (although it takes more motion for some than others).

How Motion Sickness Occurs

Your inner ear is responsible for balance, a sense of spatial awareness (knowing where your body is in relationship to the environment), and maintaining equilibrium. The inner ear accomplishes this with the help of your eyes (your vision), and something called proprioception . Proprioception is the process by which your muscles, tendons, and nerves are able to work together to sense movement.

Your inner ear, vision, and proprioception collectively make up the vestibular system . When you become dizzy, it's because one or more of these three smaller systems that make up the vestibular system is out of whack, or the three systems are not working together in harmony.

Motion can cause these systems to fall out of sync with one another.   For example, if you are sitting in a restaurant on the inside of a cruise ship, your eyes will not tell your brain that you're moving because inside the ship it doesn't look like you are, but your body and inner ear can still sense the movement and relay the message to your brain. Your visual senses will tell you that you are not moving while the rest of your vestibular system will tell your brain that you're in motion. It is these conflicting messages that can cause symptoms of motion sickness.

This is why some people only experience car sickness if they are sitting in the back seat, and their symptoms sometimes subside if they look out the window or are driving. Looking out the window helps to keep your vestibular system in sync. Your inner ear and the rest of your body know that you are moving, and looking out the window helps ensure that your visual system also knows you're moving and relays the same message to your brain.

Symptoms of Motion Sickness

The symptoms of motion sickness can be mild or quite severe. Some people are more prone to motion sickness than others. For example, infants and toddlers rarely get motion sickness but kids aged 2-9 years are more susceptible.   Pregnant women or those who experience migraines are also more likely to get motion sickness.

Symptoms may include some or (if you're really unlucky) all of the following:  

  • Cold sweats
  • Dilated pupils 
  • A general feeling that something is not right or that you are unwell

Prevention and Treatment of Motion Sickness

You can prevent or minimize the symptoms of motion sickness without medication by:

  • Sitting in the front seat or at least next to a window
  • Avoiding reading while traveling in a car, plane or boat
  • Avoiding spicy, greasy foods or large meals before traveling
  • Focusing on something in the distance instead of something inside the vehicle
  • If possible, being the driver and not a passenger
  • For some people, drinking a beverage with caffeine may help
  • Chewing fresh ginger, taking ginger as a tablet or other ginger preparations (may speed up the rate at which your stomach empties and subsequently help with nausea and vomiting)

Useful Medications For Treating Motion Sickness

You can buy many over-the-counter (OTC) medications for motion sickness, but in severe cases, prescription medication may be necessary. Many of these medications can cause drowsiness, and some should not be used in children. Make sure you read the package insert and talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist before deciding to use medication to treat your motion sickness.

Commonly used OTC medications include:

  • Dimenhydrinate
  • Diphenhydramine (while diphenhydramine does have anti-nausea properties, it may not be as effective as other medications)
  • Meclizine - this is the active ingredient in many OTC motion sickness medications and is less sedating than dimenhydrinate for most people

Medications available by prescription:

  • Scopolamine
  • Metoclopramide
  • Promethazine

You will find other "remedies" for sale at stores or online, but keep in mind that many have not been studied or proven useful for the treatment of motion sickness.

CDC. Motion sickness .

Bertolini G, Straumann D. Moving in a moving world: A review on vestibular motion sickness .  Front Neurol . 2016;7:14. doi:10.3389/fneur.2016.00014

Karrim N, Magula N, Saman Y. Antihistamines for motion sickness .  Cochrane Database Syst Rev . 2017;2017(7):CD012715. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD012715

By Kristin Hayes, RN Kristin Hayes, RN, is a registered nurse specializing in ear, nose, and throat disorders for both adults and children.

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Motion Sickness Travel Sickness

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Manage Notes

Motion sickness (travel sickness) is common, especially in children. It is caused by repeated unusual movements during travelling, which send strong (sometimes confusing) signals to the balance and position sensors in the brain.

Motion Sickness

Travel sickness, in this article, what causes motion sickness, how long does motion sickness last, motion sickness symptoms, how to stop motion sickness, natural treatments for motion sickness, motion sickness medicines, what can a doctor prescribe for motion sickness.

  • What should I do if I'm actually sick?

What is mal de debarquement syndrome?

Motion sickness is a normal response to repeated movements, such as going over bumps or around in a circle, send lots of messages to your brain. If you are inside a vehicle, particularly if you are focused on things that are inside the vehicle with you then the signals that your eyes send to the brain may tell it that your position is not changing, whilst your balance mechanisms say otherwise.

Your balance mechanisms in your inner ears sense different signals to those that your eyes are seeing which then sends your brain mixed, confusing messages. This confusion between messages then causes people to experience motion sickness.

Is motion sickness normal?

Motion sickness is a normal response that anyone can have when experiencing real or perceived motion. Although all people can develop motion sickness if exposed to sufficiently intense motion, some people are rarely affected while other people are more susceptible and have to deal with motion sickness very often.

Triggers for motion sickness

Motion sickness can also be triggered by anxiety or strong smells, such as food or petrol. Sometimes trying to read a book or a map can trigger motion sickness. Both in children and adults, playing computer games can sometimes cause motion sickness to occur.

Motion sickness is more common in children and also in women. Fortunately, many children grow out of having motion sickness. It is not known why some people develop motion sickness more than others. Symptoms can develop in cars, trains, planes and boats and on amusement park rides, etc.

Symptoms typically go when the journey is over; however, not always. In some people they last a few hours, or even days, after the journey ends.

There are various symptoms of motion sickness including::

  • Feeling sick (nausea and vomiting).
  • Sweating and cold sweats.
  • Increase in saliva.
  • Headaches .
  • Feeling cold and going pale.
  • Feeling weak.

Some general tips to avoid motion sickness include the following.

Prepare for your journey

  • Don't eat a heavy meal before travelling. Light, carbohydrate-based food like cereals an hour or two before you travel is best.
  • On long journeys, try breaking the journey to have some fresh air, drink some cold water and, if possible, take a short walk.

For more in-depth advice on travelling generally, see the separate leaflets called Health Advice for Travel Abroad , Travelling to Remote Locations , Ears and Flying (Aeroplane Ear) , Jet Lag and Altitude Sickness .

Plan where you sit

  • Keep motion to a minimum. For example, sit in the front seat of a car, over the wing of a plane, or on deck in the middle of a boat.
  • On a boat, stay on deck and avoid the cafeteria or sitting where your can smell the engines.

Breathe fresh air

  • Breathe fresh air if possible. For example, open a car window.
  • Avoid strong smells, particularly petrol and diesel fumes. This may mean closing the window and turning on the air conditioning, or avoiding the engine area in a boat.

Use your eyes and ears differently

  • Close your eyes (and keep them closed for the whole journey). This reduces 'positional' signals from your eyes to your brain and reduces the confusion.
  • Don't try to read.
  • Try listening to an audio book with your eyes closed. There is some evidence that distracting your brain with audio signals can reduce your sensitivity to the motion signals.
  • Try to sleep - this works mainly because your eyes are closed, but it is possible that your brain is able to ignore some motion signals when you are asleep.
  • Do not read or watch a film.
  • It is advisable not to watch moving objects such as waves or other cars. Don't look at things your brain expects to stay still, like a book inside the car. Instead, look ahead, a little above the horizon, at a fixed place.
  • If you are the driver you are less likely to feel motion sickness. This is probably because you are constantly focused on the road ahead and attuned to the movements that you expect the vehicle to make. If you are not, or can't be, the driver, sitting in the front and watching what the driver is watching can be helpful.

Treat your tummy gently

  • Avoid heavy meals and do not drink alcohol before and during travelling. It may also be worth avoiding spicy or fatty food.
  • Try to 'tame your tummy' with sips of a cold water or a sweet, fizzy drink. Cola or ginger ale are recommended.

Try alternative treatments

  • Sea-Bands® are acupressure bands that you wear on your wrists to put pressure on acupressure points that Chinese medicine suggests affects motion sickness. Some people find that they are effective.
  • Homeopathic medicines seem to help some people, and will not make you drowsy. The usual homeopathic remedy is called 'nux vom'. Follow the instructions on the packet.

Off on holiday?

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All the techniques above which aim to prevent motion sickness will also help reduce it once it has begun. Other techniques, which are useful on their own to treat motion sickness but can also be used with medicines if required, are:

  • Breathe deeply and slowly and, while focusing on your breathing, listening to music. This has been proved to be effective in clinical trials.
  • Ginger - can improve motion sickness in some people (as a biscuit or sweet, or in a drink).

There are several motion sickness medicines available which can reduce, or prevent, symptoms of motion sickness. You can buy them from pharmacies or, in some cases, get them on prescription. They work by interfering with the nerve signals described above.

Medicines are best taken before the journey. They may still help even if you take them after symptoms have begun, although once you feel sick you won't absorb medicines from the stomach very well. So, at this point, tablets that you put against your gums, or skin patches, are more likely to be effective.

Hyoscine is usually the most effective medicine for motion sickness . It is also known as scopolamine. It works by preventing the confusing nerve messages going to your brain.

There are several brands of medicines which contain hyoscine - they also come in a soluble form for children. You should take a dose 30-60 minutes before a journey; the effect can last up to 72 hours. Hyoscine comes as a patch for people aged 10 years or over. (This is only available on prescription - see below.) Side-effects of hyoscine include dry mouth , drowsiness and blurred vision.

Side-effects of motion sickness medicines

Some medicines used for motion sickness may cause drowsiness. Some people are extremely sensitive to this and may find that they are so drowsy that they can't function properly at all. For others the effects may be milder but can still impair your reactions and alertness. It is therefore advisable not to drive and not to operate heavy machinery if you have taken them. In addition, some medicines may interfere with alcohol or other medication; your doctor or the pharmacist can advise you about this.


Antihistamines can also be useful , although they are not quite as effective as hyoscine. However, they usually cause fewer side-effects. Several types of antihistamine are sold for motion sickness. All can cause drowsiness, although some are more prone to cause it than others; for example, promethazine , which may be of use for young children on long journeys, particularly tends to cause drowsiness. Older children or adults may prefer one that is less likely to cause drowsiness - for example, cinnarizine or cyclizine.

Remember, if you give children medicines which cause drowsiness they can sometimes be irritable when the medicines wear off.

See the separate article called How to manage motion sickness .

There are a number of anti-sickness medicines which can only be prescribed by your doctor. Not all of them always work well for motion sickness, and finding something that works may be a case of trial and error. All of them work best taken up to an hour before your journey, and work less well if used when you already feel sick. See also the separate leaflet called Nausea (Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment) for more detailed information about these medicines .

Hyoscine patch

Hyoscine, or scopolamine, patches are suitable for adults and for children over 10 years old. The medicine is absorbed through your skin, although this method of medicine delivery is slow so the patch works best if applied well before your journey.

You should stick the patch on to the skin behind the ear 5-6 hours before travelling (often this will mean late on the previous night) and remove it at the end of the journey.


Prochlorperazine is a prescription-only medicine which works by changing the actions of the chemicals that control the tendency to be sick (vomit), in your brain. One form of prochlorperazine is Buccastem®, which is absorbed through your gums and does not need to be swallowed. Buccastem® tastes rather bitter but it can be effective for sickness when you are already feeling sick, as it doesn't have to be absorbed by the stomach.


Metoclopramide is a tablet used to speed up the emptying of your tummy. Slow emptying of the tummy is something that happens when you develop nausea and vomiting, so metoclopramide can help prevent this. It prevents nausea and vomiting quite effectively in some people. It can occasionally have unpleasant side-effects, particularly in children (in whom it is not recommended). Metoclopramide is often helpful for those who tend to have gastric reflux, those who have slow tummy emptying because of previous surgery, and those who have type 1 diabetes. Your GP will advise whether metoclopramide is suitable for you.


Domperidone , like metoclopramide, is sometimes used for sickness caused by slow tummy emptying. It is not usually recommended for motion sickness but is occasionally used if other treatments don't help. Domperidone is not a legal medicine in some countries, including the USA.


Ondansetron is a powerful antisickness medicine which is most commonly used for sickness caused by chemotherapy, and occasionally used for morning sickness in pregnancy. It is not usually effective for motion sickness. This, and its relatively high cost means that it is not prescribed for motion sickness alone. However, for those undergoing chemotherapy, and for those who have morning sickness aggravated by travel, ondansetron may be helpful.

What should I do if I'm actually sick?

If you're actually sick you may find that this relieves your symptoms a little, although not always for very long. If you've been sick:

  • Try a cool flannel on your forehead, try to get fresh air on your face and do your best to find a way to rinse your mouth to get rid of the taste.
  • Don't drink anything for ten to twenty minutes (or it may come straight back), although (very) tiny sips of very cold water, coke or ginger ale may help.
  • After this, go back to taking all the prevention measures above.
  • Once you reach your destination you may continue to feel unwell. Sleep if you can, sip cold iced water, and - when you feel ready - try some small carbohydrate snacks. Avoid watching TV (more moving objects to watch!) until you feel a little better.

The sensation called 'mal de debarquement' (French for sickness on disembarking) refers to the sensation you sometimes get after travel on a boat, train or plane, when you feel for a while as though the ground is rocking beneath your feet. It is probably caused by the overstimulation of the balance organs during your journey. It usually lasts only an hour or two, but in some people it can last for several days, particularly after a long sea journey. It does not usually require any treatment.

Persistent mal de debarquement syndrome is an uncommon condition in which these symptoms may persist for months or years.

Dr Mary Lowth is an author or the original author of this leaflet.

Altitude Sickness

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Further reading and references

Leung AK, Hon KL ; Motion sickness: an overview. Drugs Context. 2019 Dec 138:2019-9-4. doi: 10.7573/dic.2019-9-4. eCollection 2019.

Spinks A, Wasiak J ; Scopolamine (hyoscine) for preventing and treating motion sickness. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Jun 15(6):CD002851.

Zhang LL, Wang JQ, Qi RR, et al ; Motion Sickness: Current Knowledge and Recent Advance. CNS Neurosci Ther. 2016 Jan22(1):15-24. doi: 10.1111/cns.12468. Epub 2015 Oct 9.

Lackner JR ; Motion sickness: more than nausea and vomiting. Exp Brain Res. 2014 Aug232(8):2493-510. doi: 10.1007/s00221-014-4008-8. Epub 2014 Jun 25.

Van Ombergen A, Van Rompaey V, Maes LK, et al ; Mal de debarquement syndrome: a systematic review. J Neurol. 2016 May263(5):843-854. doi: 10.1007/s00415-015-7962-6. Epub 2015 Nov 11.

Related Information

  • Hyoscine for travel sickness (Joy Rides, Kwells, Scopoderm, Travel Calm)
  • Scopolamine skin patch for nausea (Transderm Scop)
  • Nausea Medicine
  • Cyclizine for sickness (nausea)
  • Promethazine (Avomine, Phenergan, Sominex, Vertigon)

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Motion Sickness

woman in a mask sleeping on a plane

Motion sickness happens when the movement you see is different from what your inner ear senses. This can cause dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. You can get motion sick in a car, or on a train, airplane, boat, or amusement park ride. Motion sickness can make traveling unpleasant, but there are strategies to prevent and treat it.

Preventing motion sickness without medicine

Avoiding situations that cause motion sickness is the best way to prevent it, but that is not always possible when you are traveling. The following strategies can help you avoid or lessen motion sickness.

  • Sit in the front of a car or bus.
  • Choose a window seat on flights and trains.
  • If possible, try lying down, shutting your eyes, sleeping, or looking at the horizon.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking water. Limit alcoholic and caffeinated beverages.
  • Eat small amounts of food frequently.
  • Avoid smoking. Even stopping for a short period of time helps.
  • Try and distract yourself with activities, such as listening to music.
  • Use flavored lozenges, such as ginger candy.

Using medicines for motion sickness

Medicines can be used to prevent or treat motion sickness, although many of them cause drowsiness. Talk to a healthcare professional to decide if you should take medicines for motion sickness. Commonly used medicines are diphenhydramine (Benadryl), dimenhydrinate (Dramamine), and scopolamine.

Special Consideration for Children

family in airport

Motion sickness is more common in children ages 2 to 12 years old.

Some medicines used to prevent or treat motion sickness are not recommended for children. Talk to your healthcare professional about medicines and correct dosing of medicines for motion sickness for children. Only give the recommended dosage.

Although motion sickness medicines can make people sleepy, it can have the opposite effect for some children, causing them to be very active. Ask your doctor if you should give your child a test dose before traveling.

More Information

Motion Sickness in CDC Yellow Book

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Motion sickness

Motion sickness is feeling dizzy, or feeling or being sick when travelling by car, boat, plane or train. You can do things to prevent it or relieve the symptoms.

Check if you have motion sickness

Symptoms of motion sickness may include:

  • feeling sick (nausea)
  • feeling cold and going pale

How to ease motion sickness yourself

Do reduce motion – sit in the front of a car or in the middle of a boat look straight ahead at a fixed point, such as the horizon breathe fresh air if possible – for example, by opening a car window close your eyes and breathe slowly while focusing on your breathing distract children by talking, listening to music or singing songs break up long journeys to get some fresh air, drink water or take a walk try ginger, which you can take as a tablet, biscuit or tea don’t.

do not read, watch films or use electronic devices

do not look at moving objects, such as passing cars or rolling waves

do not eat heavy meals, spicy foods or drink alcohol shortly before or during travel

do not go on fairground rides if they make you feel unwell

A pharmacist can help with motion sickness

You can buy remedies from pharmacies to help prevent motion sickness, including:

  • tablets – dissolvable tablets are available for children
  • patches – can be used by adults and children over 10
  • acupressure bands – these do not work for everyone

A pharmacist will be able to recommend the best treatment for you or your child.

Causes of motion sickness

Motion sickness is caused by repeated movements when travelling, like going over bumps in a car or moving up and down in a boat, plane or train.

The inner ear sends different signals to your brain from those your eyes are seeing. These confusing messages cause you to feel unwell.

Page last reviewed: 19 June 2023 Next review due: 19 June 2026

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Shaky view from the interior of a car in London, England

What causes motion sickness—and how can you prevent it?

Traveling by boat, car, or even through virtual reality can make some people queasy. Experts weigh in on what to do about it.

For some travelers, a catamaran sail off Oahu, Hawaii , or a camel ride through the desert in Morocco isn’t an enviable vacation experience. It’s an encounter with nausea, dizziness, and cold sweats.

Motion sickness like this can happen to almost anyone, including children and dogs. Studies suggest that more than half of all people who ride in automobiles experience carsickness . Recent surveys of members of the Indian Navy , Icelandic fishermen , and South Carolina marine biologists indicate that up to 80 percent of individuals who work on boats get seasick sometimes.

“We’re even seeing cybersickness now, with people looking at their phones when riding in the car or wearing glasses for a 3D movie,” says Andrea Bubka , a professor of psychology at Saint Peter’s University in New Jersey, who has extensively studied motion sickness.

Here’s why motion sickness happens and what travelers can do to prevent it.

What causes it

Scientists aren’t sure why some people feel nauseated the second they step on a boat, while others can blithely read long novels while riding in the backseat of a car. But they have a few theories.

Many scholars believe motion sickness is caused by sensory conflict, a discrepancy between what people see and what their bodies are experiencing. “Human beings did not evolve to travel in space shuttles and use virtual-reality video games,” says Marcello Cherchi, a neurologist at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

Sensory conflict happens when your body feels the heaving of an ocean ferry or the jolting motion of a bus winding through the mountains and your eyes, ears, and other senses can’t catch up. This results in symptoms like a dry mouth, dizziness, upset stomach, or a pounding headache.

However, other scientists believe that people get motion sick because they don’t instinctively change how they sit, stand, or walk in a moving mode of transport. That disconnect causes you to feel ill. 

One of the biggest proponents of this “postural stability theory” is Tom Stoffregen , a professor of kinesiology at the University of Minnesota. “On a boat or plane, you have to learn to move differently—like sailors who get their ‘sea legs’ after a few days,” he says. “The key is physical control of your body, and some individuals adapt more quickly than others.”

Genetics might play a part, too. A 2015 study of 480,000 customers of DNA-testing company 23andme identified 413 genetic markers—many related to balance or eye, ear, and cranial development—that could make an individual predisposed to motion sickness.

Preventing motion sickness 

The easiest way to combat motion sickness is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Hydrate and keep fresh air flowing while traveling, either by opening a window in the car, turning on the air vent above you on the plane, or heading to the deck on a cruise ship. 

“And be careful what you eat when you travel,” says Bubka. Anything that upsets your stomach on dry land—eating too much (or too little), drinking excessive amounts of alcohol or caffeine—could be amplified by motion. 

“Do everything you can to be sure your view isn’t obstructed,” says Natascha Tuznik , a doctor who specializes in travel medicine at the University of California Davis. “Look at the horizon if you’re out to sea and sit in the front seat of the car where you can see the road and what’s coming.” Closely watching what’s coming helps your eyes and inner ears sync more quickly with other bodily functions.

Avoiding triggers and anti-nausea training

Some research suggests that doing physical or mental exercises could help humans train themselves to be less motion sick. The Puma Method , developed by a flight surgeon to serve airsick pilots, uses yoga-like stretches and angular movements to build up anti-nausea conditioning. A 2020 study at England’s University of Warwick found that, after doing 15-minute visuospatial training exercises (finding hidden objects in puzzles, folding paper), many subjects didn’t get sick when taken for car rides. 

“The advantage is that these approaches don’t require medication,” says Cherchi. “The disadvantage is that they can entail considerable discomfort, at least initially.”

People prone to motion sickness can also practice “trigger avoidance,” steering clear of activities that make them bilious. If long bus rides make you turn green, rent a car instead, then sit up front or drive yourself. Those prone to seasickness should take flat-water river cruises or choose larger oceangoing ships with smoother rides. 

Medication—or gadgets—might help

Another way to combat travel-related nausea? Use an over-the-counter motion sickness drug (like Dramamine) or a doctor-prescribed Scopolamine patch (usually worn behind the ear). Both are anticholinergics, which block and inhibit the central nervous system to create a calming effect on the muscles in the stomach and bowels.

However, these medicines only work if used a short time before you set sail or board that flight. Such drugs can also make you groggy, and many people have health conditions that preclude their use. Stoffregen advises travelers who don’t want to take pills to try ginger chews or gingersnaps instead. “There’s well-documented evidence that a little bit of ginger can significantly reduce nausea,” he says.

Multiple gadgets promise to help with motion sickness. Pressure-point wristbands , which rely on acupressure principles, come in models from inexpensive and basic to high-tech and high-priced . Wacky-looking anti-nausea glasses also came to market about two years ago, sporting liquid-filled frames and four round, glass-free lenses. The idea is that the liquid in the specs shifts as you move, creating an artificial horizon. 

While many users report feeling better when using these devices on planes, trains, and automobiles, studies have yet to support their efficacy. “Still, if there’s a placebo effect, and you don’t get sick, then I don’t care about the science,” says Stoffregen. “It’s money well spent.”

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The science behind travel sickness, and how to avoid it

Gp offers advice on the best way to stay illness-free on long journeys.

travel sickness causes

For many families the summer holidays bring the opportunity to venture out on exciting road trips to far flung places.

But for some, long drives to holiday destinations or to visit family bring the unpleasant prospect of car sickness.

Ranging from a generally unwell feeling to nausea and vomiting, travel sickness can make holidays a misery for many but there are steps you can take to avoid it or at least reduce the symptoms.

What causes travel sickness?

According to GP and author, Dr Sarah Brewer, travel and motion sickness can be triggered by any form of transport and is caused when motion-detecting cells in the inner ears are excessively stimulated and send messages to the brain which don’t match the degree of movement detected by the eyes.

“Your eyes tell your brain that the environment is stationary but your balance organs say that it isn’t – this triggers travel sickness”, says Dr Brewer.

travel sickness causes

Read more: The 10 best traditional car games for the whole family

“Most people have experienced it at some point in their lives, however some people, particularly children, are especially sensitive as their nerve pathways involved are not fully developed. Before the age of ten, children are especially susceptible.”

According to research by Euro Car Parts, reading, watching a screen, travelling backwards and sitting in the back seat of a car are among the most common causes of feeling car sick. And small cars were the worst form of transport for instigating a bout of illness, to blame for 44 per cent of cases.

travel sickness causes

10 most common causes of travel sickness Reading (39%) Travelling backwards (38%) Sitting in the back seat (31%) Travelling while tired (17%) After drinking alcohol (16%) Watching a screen (15%) Dehydration (15%) Travelling while hungry (14.7%) Standing while travelling eg on public transport (11%) After eating (6%)

How to stop travel sickness

To help those who suffer from car sickness, Dr Brewer has come up with some tips to help avoid its onset or mimimise its effects

Watch what and when you eat and drink

When travelling, it can be tempting to buy quick and easy fast food from service stations en route. However, greasy, fatty and spicy food can cause nausea and trigger or worsen travel sickness. Likewise, alcohol can act as a diuretic and dehydrate you – further exacerbating your motion sickness.

You should however avoid travelling on an empty stomach – have a light meal instead 45 to 60 minutes before travelling, and top yourself up with light snacks which are bland and low in fat and acid.

travel sickness causes

Position is everything

If possible, offer to drive – drivers are less likely to suffer from travel sickness as they are concentrating on the outside. If driving isn’t an option, try to sit in the front seats and open the windows to get fresh air circulating.

Keep your attention focused on the distant horizon to reduce your sensory input. To help children, use car seats to ensure children can sit high enough to see out of the window.

To reduce nausea-inducing movement in other vehicles, try and sit between the wheels on buses or coaches where movement is less, or in the area above the wings on an aeroplane.

If all else fails, try medication

For travel sickness, prevention is easier than treating symptoms once they start. Try taking the antihistamine cinnarizine, which works on the vomiting centre in the brain, two hours before a journey, and it will reduce your susceptibility to motion sickness for at least eight hours.

If you are already feeling sick, however, you can suck a tablet rather than swallowing it for a more rapid effect. Just make sure you don’t take sedating travel sickness medication or drive if you feel drowsy.

If you prefer a more natural option, Dr Brewer recommends trying ginger tablets or wearing acupressure bands on your wrists.

travel sickness causes

Chris Barella, digital services director at Euro Car Parts said: “Unfortunately, motion sickness is something that most of us have dealt with at some point in our life and will probably have to continue to deal with.

“No one wants to experience that nauseous feeling while travelling. Hopefully the advice offered by Dr Brewer will help sufferers, particularly if you have no choice but to travel.”

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Travel Sickness: The Ultimate Guide – Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

What is travel sickness.

Travel sickness is a general term used to describe motion sickness experienced when travelling by car, plane, train, or boat.

What causes travel sickness?

Travel sickness happens when our eyes tell our brains that we’re not moving but our inner ears sense motion of travel and the conflicting information in the brain causes the sick feeling.

This happens in a place in the body called the vestibular system which coordinates balance and passes signals from the inner ear to the brain.

You can find out more about what causes specific types of travels sickness below:

  • About car sickness
  • About sea sickness
  • About motion sickness

travel sickness causes

Who can suffer from travel sickness?

Travel sickness can affect more people than others, and it is unclear why this is.

Children under the of age two are said to be almost immune to the feeling, however children between the age of two and 12 are most commonly affected.

Many are known to grow out of it altogether.

What are the symptoms of travel sickness?

Travel sickness symptoms include  dizziness, feeling cold, feeling weak, headaches, nausea, pale skin, sweating.

travel sickness causes

How to relieve travel sickness

You can reduce travel sickness symptoms by taking various preventative actions.

If you reduce the impact of motion on your body by sitting in the front of a vehicle or in the middle of a boat, this may help to reduce any feelings of nausea. This will be helped by fixing your gaze on one spot.

Fresh air also helps to reduce the symptoms of travel sickness.

You can also try:

  • Breathing exercises
  • Drink ginger-based drinks to settle your stomach
  • Listening to music
  • Take regular breaks, if possible

Travels sickness pills

Pills, such as Kwells travel sickness tablets , can help to relieve symptoms of travel sickness.

Our travel sickness tablets contain Hyoscine Hydrobromide 300mcg which temporarily reduces the effect of movement on the balance organs of the inner ear and the nerves responsible for nausea.

If you have been prescribed medication by your doctor, always follow any instructions they may have given you.

Travel sickness tablets are available at your local pharmacy or online.

Kwells travel sickness tablets

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Kwells 300 microgram tablets. For the prevention of travel sickness, suitable for adults and children aged 10+. Contains Hyoscine Hydrobromide 300 microgram. Kwells Kids 150 microgram tablets. For the prevention of travel sickness, suitable for children aged 4+. Contains Hyoscine Hydrobromide 150 microgram. Always read the label

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What is Travel Sickness? Common Symptoms and Causes

Scott McDougall

For some people, the thought of travelling long distances in a car or by plane can be extremely stressful due to motion sickness. Motion sickness (also referred to as travel sickness) is caused by repeated movements, as well as a sensory conflict in which the brain is unable to combine mixed signals.

So, how can you improve your travel experience and prevent motion sickness? This guide will go over the most common causes, symptoms and treatments for motion sickness.

What is motion sickness?

Motion sickness is triggered by movement. It can affect people while travelling, but also occur as visually induced motion sickness for some sufferers. When there is an imbalance between what you see and what you feel, such as sitting still in a car while seeing the outside speeding past you, this imbalance disturbs the inner ear and this is what causes you to feel ill.

Common causes of motion sickness include:

  • Repetitive motion such as bumps while driving
  • Reading, playing games or watching films while in motion
  • Amusement rides such as roller coasters
  • Riding in a boat, car, bus, train or plane

Motion sickness can take you by surprise. You may feel fine one moment and then suddenly develop motion sickness symptoms.

Is travel sickness the same as altitude sickness?

While there are some similarities between altitude sickness and motion sickness, they are not the same illness. Motion sickness is caused by mixed signals, whereas altitude sickness occurs when there is a lack of oxygen in the air. However, you may experience similar symptoms including nausea and headaches.

Read more about altitude sickness in our helpful Common Altitude Sickness Treatments & Remedies guide.

Can motion sickness be caused by anxiety?

Anxiety is a stress response that can result in a variety of psychological and physical symptoms. When you are overly anxious — if you are worried about flying, for example — you may notice that your heart rate and breathing rate increase. Other symptoms may include nausea, sickness or a cold sweat.

Motion sickness and anxiety-related sickness do share similar traits, but travel sickness is caused by a disturbance of the inner ear, whereas anxiety is a result of stress. It’s important to find the root cause of your sickness in order to find the best treatment available.

What are the common symptoms of travel sickness?

Motion sickness can happen as a result of certain types of movement. For some people who are extremely sensitive to certain motions, it may take very little for them to become ill, whereas others may only get motion sickness occasionally.

Common symptoms of motion sickness include:

  • Loss of appetite

Once you understand your symptoms and triggers, it’s easier to prevent motion sickness or find a treatment that minimises your symptoms.

Who experiences motion sickness?

Almost everyone will experience motion sickness at some point; however, some groups are more susceptible to the condition.

You are more likely to get motions sickness if the following applies:

  • You are female
  • You have a family history of motion sickness
  • You are on hormonal birth control
  • You are pregnant
  • You have an existing disorder of the inner ear

Also, children aged 2 to 12 are more likely to suffer from motion sickness. When motion sickness occurs in children, they often grow out of it. For adults, however, depending on the severity of your symptoms you may need to prepare each time you travel to avoid an upset stomach.

How do you stop travel sickness?

Motion sickness symptoms can be unpleasant to deal with, so you may need to find a treatment in order to ease motion sickness when travelling. Luckily, there are several options available that can be taken in the lead-up to situations that trigger motion sickness, such as car, bus or train travel.

  • Patches: Motion sickness patches such as Scopoderm Patches are simple and convenient to use. They are discreetly applied behind the ear before travel and can provide up to 72 hours of motion sickness relief. The patch works by releasing hyoscine, which is then absorbed by the skin and blocks the muscarinic (or cholinergic) receptors that cause nausea and vomiting due to sensory imbalances. Each patch contains 1.5mg hyoscine and is intended to be worn for three days.
  • Anti-sickness Tablets: Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms of motion sickness. Medications such as Stugeron Tablets contain the active ingredient cinnarizine. This is an antihistamine that prevents nerve signals from reaching the vomiting centre of the brain. These signals are sent by the vestibular apparatus in the inner ear, and preventing them from reaching the brain suppresses motion sickness symptoms.

How long does travel sickness last?

Motion sickness can last up to 4 hours after the motion has stopped, but in most cases your symptoms will slowly reduce in intensity during that period. You can also prevent the onset of motion sickness by taking nausea treatments or travel sickness treatments as soon as you start to feel unwell.

Alternative ways to treat motion sickness

Alongside anti-sickness medications, you can also relieve nausea and other symptoms in other ways, such as:

  • Reducing motion by sitting in the front of a car or in the middle of a boat.
  • Looking straight ahead at a fixed point to prevent nausea and dizziness.
  • Getting fresh air when possible.
  • Focusing on your breathing.
  • Drinking peppermint or chamomile tea to settle your stomach.
  • Focusing on the P6 pressure point by massaging the area or wearing pressure wristbands. The point is found three finger-widths away from the wrist, roughly in the middle of the forearm.

What is travellers’ diarrhoea?

Traveller's diarrhoea is a common condition around the world in which stools are passed frequently. This is usually caused by consuming food or drink that has been contaminated with bacteria, viruses or parasites — often experienced when travelling to new countries. The condition can be very unpleasant and can interfere with daily life, especially when travelling.

Though uncomfortable, the condition is not dangerous and usually resolves itself within a few days, especially when appropriate treatment is used. Anti-diarrhoea treatments such as Ciprofloxacin Tablets can reduce the duration of your upset stomach symptoms. They contain ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic which is effective at killing off bacterial infections.

How is motion sickness diagnosed?

If you’re experiencing sickness every time you travel in a car, plane or boat, then motion sickness is probably the cause. If your symptoms are severe or are becoming more frequent, it’s best to visit a healthcare professional such as your GP or pharmacist who can help diagnose your condition. They may also perform a physical exam and check your eyes and inner ears.

Authored by

Scott is one of the two founders of The Independent Pharmacy. He is a registered pharmacist and the registered manager of our service with the CQC.

Reviewed by

Andy Boysan

Andy is a co-founder and the Superintendent Pharmacist and Director at The Independent Pharmacy.

  • Review Date: 11 August 2022
  • Next Review: 11 August 2024
  • Published On: 18 August 2022
  • Last Updated: 4 October 2023

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What Causes Travel Sickness and What Can You Do to Combat It?

Feeling sick or dizzy after a car journey? Chances are you have a case of travel sickness, a condition that affects lots of people when travelling by car, train, bus, plane or boat.

Travel sickness, or motion sickness, can be a real pain, making trips out in the car unbearable for sufferers. It’s most common in children, so family holidays can often be an issue for young travellers.

In this guide we’ll look at ways to ease travel sickness, as well as its causes and symptoms.

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What Are the Symptoms of Travel Sickness?

How to ease travel sickness, what causes travel sickness, is there a cure for travel sickness, who gets travel sickness, what type of driving is most likely to cause travel sickness.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common symptoms of travel sickness.

You could have any of the following:

  • Feeling sick or being sick
  • Sweating (often a cold sweat)
  • Lots of saliva
  • Feeling a bit rubbish in general

Although the symptoms of travel sickness can be very unpleasant, the good news is that they don’t last long. Most people start feeling better as soon as they stop moving, with the most severe symptoms usually going away within four hours.

There’s no cure for travel sickness, but there are ways to help ease its severity and reduce the symptoms. Here are some things to try the next time you’re feeling queasy:

  • Don’t read, watch films or use a smartphone while travelling. Focusing on close-up objects is one of the biggest triggers of motion sickness.
  • Instead look at objects, landmarks or buildings that are a long way away; this will help keep your head still. Don’t however watch moving objects, like passing cars, as this could make the problem worse.
  • If possible open the car windows to get some fresh air. Breathe slowly and focus on each breath.
  • Don’t eat rich, spicy foods before travelling.
  • Schedule regular stops to get fresh air and drink some water.
  • If your children suffer from travel sickness, have them sit in the middle seat of the car so they don’t ‘roll’ as much when you turn corners.
  • Distract children with music, talking or games; anything to take their mind off feeling ill. The reason why few drivers suffer from travel sickness is because their mind is distracted.

While simple remedies like these might work for some people, others may have to take a medication to reduce the symptoms of travel sickness. A pharmacist can recommend different medicines based on your symptoms, including tablets, patches or bands.

Travel sickness occurs when repetitive motion causes the inner ear to send signals to the brain which are different from what your eyes are seeing. Bumps, swerves or the up-and-down motion of being on a boat can all trigger this in-ear problem.

And it isn’t just the signals from your eyes and ears which can confuse the brain. As you subconsciously tense muscles while travelling, to keep yourself balanced and upright, this also adds to the conflicting messages your brain is receiving – further adding to the problem.

woman feeling unwell in car

Travel sickness is difficult to treat because it’s a sensory problem. Your brain is receiving lots of mixed messages from different parts of your body, which ultimately cause you to feel sick and dizzy.

That’s why staying still, listening to music and closing your eyes can be so useful at easing the severity of travel sickness. You’re essentially reducing the number of sensory messages your brain receives and are less likely to start feeling sick or dizzy.

There’s no permanent cure for travel sickness, but a pharmacist can recommend medicines which can reduce the chances of getting it. It’s also worth bearing in mind that you’re less likely to get motion sickness as you get older, as your brain becomes more accustomed to dealing with all the messages it receives as you travel.

About 1 in 3 people get travel sickness, making it one of the most common conditions in the UK. While anyone can get it at any age, children are the most susceptible, and pregnant women can also suffer from it worse than others.

Although it’s impossible to stop your passengers feeling sick, there are a few things to note about how, when and where you drive that could reduce the likelihood of them feeling ill:

  • People are more likely to feel ill on winding, hilly roads, so try to plan your journey around motorways and A-roads wherever possible.
  • Speeding can make motion sickness worse, so take things steady around corners and avoid sudden swerves.
  • Make sure your tyres are always fully inflated; this will help reduce body roll.
  • Driving in the dark can be a big trigger for motion sickness, so avoid this if your passengers are prone to feeling sick and dizzy.
  • Travelling in hot weather is also something to bear in mind. Although you can’t avoid trips in the summer, be sure to use the a/c or open a window when you can to keep your passengers cool.

We hope you’ve appreciated this guide on the causes and symptoms of travel sickness, and how to prevent it. Looking for more from Holts? Click here for our blog or to browse our complete product range, visit the homepage today .

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travel sickness causes

Travel Sickness: What Is It and How to Prevent It?

by David J. Sautter | Travel Fitness | 0 comments

travel sickness

Sitting in a café in La Paz, Bolivia, a wave of electric heat shot from my feet to my head. Like some lame version of Spidey sense that only pertained to digestion, I knew something was wrong. Barely making it back to my apartment, I climbed into the shower with fever, dizziness, and the overwhelming urge to puke my guts up and go to the bathroom at the same time. This was the start of my worst bout of travel sickness, which lasted three oh-so-fun weeks.

Considered by some hardcore (and insane) travelers as a rite of passage, travel sickness is also known as traveler’s diarrhea and Montezuma’s Revenge. It occurs when unfriendly bacteria find their way into your stomach via contaminated food or water. The result? A variety of unpleasant symptoms, embarrassing (but funny later) moments, and ruined travel plans.

Let’s take a look what causes travel sickness, how to prevent it, and what you can do if you get it.

What Causes Travel Sickness?

The most common cause of traveler’s sickness is consuming contaminated food or water. Escherichia coli bacteria, better known as E. coli, is usually the culprit of contamination, and it’s spread through unsanitary conditions and a lack of proper water filtration.

Parasites can also cause traveler’s diarrhea. While it’s possible to get those horror-movie parasites like something from Alien , it’s rare. You’re more likely to get the boring microscopic bacteria. Different cause, but the symptoms are the same.

What are the Symptoms of Travel Sickness?

Most stories start the same: “My stomach didn’t feel right…” Travel sickness is one of those things that you just know is happening. The fact that you don’t want to stray too far from a bathroom is your first clue. Here are several common symptoms of traveler’s sickness:

  • Three or more loose stools per day
  • Dehydration

How to Prevent Travel Sickness

Prevention means being less adventurous in your travels, but defense is the best offense:

Wash Your Hands: Wash your hands after being in public places, especially public transportation. I’m not the biggest fan of hand sanitizer, but if there’s no soap, it’s a necessary evil until you can find a proper bathroom.

Avoid Street Food: Exposed to the elements, street food is a breeding ground for bacteria. What’s more, you don’t know when the people who prepared your food last cleaned their hands or washed their utensils. Some backpacker-friendly cities such as Bangkok, Thailand are the exception to the rule. I visited every street food cart I saw on Khao San Road. Surprisingly, many of them had hand sanitizer, food-prep gloves, and coolers packed with ice. I ate from several food carts without an issue. Remember this is the exception, not the norm.

Avoid Buffets: Even in first-world countries, buffet-style food runs the risk of contamination when it’s left out at room temperature for hours and exposed to the germs and dirty habits of other diners. Steer clear of buffets and buffet-style condiments.

Bottle or Boil: Buy bottled water or boil all of the water you drink. To save money and reduce waste, I recommend getting a water filtration pen or bag, which you can use to filter tap or stream water.

Ask for No Ice: When traveling, tap water could be used to make the ice in your drink. Even if it’s hot as hell, don’t take the risk.

Make Sure You Can Peel It: Only buy fruits that you can peel such as bananas or mangoes. For vegetables, I recommend boiling them before eating. If you don’t have access to a stove, avoid veggies until you do.

Cook Your Food: Speaking of boiling…when traveling to different countries, I recommend thoroughly cooking your food. This could mean veggies that are soggy or meat that is tough, but you’ll be able to eat your food without worry. When I was in Bolivia, I cooked a steak the way I do back in the states: medium rare. It was the sole decision that led to my worst case of traveler’s sickness to date.

Take Digestive Enzymes: Did you know that stomach acid does more than digest your food? It also protects you from harmful bacteria. Stress from travel, especially jet lag, can tax your digestive system, making you more susceptible to traveler’s sickness. I recommend giving your tummy a boost with digestive enzyme supplements. They are great for increasing digestion and supporting healthy stomach acid production.

What to Do if You Get Traveler’s Sickness

Maybe it was the ice in your drink at that bar in Cambodia, that cake from the street cart in Argentina, or unknowingly touching your face after being on a bus in India; somehow you got travel sickness. Rest assured that it will pass quickly; most cases only last between 24 and 48 hours. To speed up recovery, here are a few things you can do:

Hydrate: You’ll lose a lot of fluids from going to the bathroom and vomiting. Focus on drinking mineral water or a sugar-free sports drink.

Over-The-Counter Meds: I recommend charcoal capsules to speed up removing the bacteria and toxins. You may also need a fever reducer like ibuprofen. Above all, do not take antibiotics unless you have a specific parasite and it’s been prescribed by a doctor.

Papaya Seeds: If you suspect you have traveler’s sickness caused by a parasite, you can use papaya seeds to rid your body of them. Chew and swallow a tablespoon of papaya seeds with water up to three times per day for several days.

Rest: Your body will need plenty of rest, especially if you have a fever. Light walks are okay, but nothing strenuous.

Be Positive: A healthy and happy mindset can do a lot for bouncing back from traveler’s sickness. You might feel stressed that it’s taking away time from your travels, but try to find a silver lining:

  • Catch up on reading that book you’ve been putting off
  • Update your travel blog
  • Write postcards to friends and family back home
  • Plan the next leg of your trip
  • Journal about your experience
  • Chat with your family

Should You See a Doctor for Traveler’s Sickness?

While most cases of traveler’s sickness go away on their own, you may have to visit a doctor if…

  • Symptoms last longer than 14 days with minimal improvement
  • You suspect you might have a parasite (rectal itching, stomach pain, extreme fatigue)
  • You are severely dehydrated (dark urine, rapid heartbeat, confusion, dry skin)
  • You have a fever of 102 (F) or higher that will not subside on its own or with medication

Have You Ever Had Traveler’s Sickness?

Where were you traveling when you got sick? What did you do to get rid of travel sickness? Any tips for travel sickness that I didn’t mention above? Let me know in the comments below.

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“Travel sickness.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary , Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/travel%20sickness. Accessed 18 Nov. 2023.

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Gastrointestinal tract

Gastrointestinal tract

Your digestive tract stretches from your mouth to your anus. It includes the organs necessary to digest food, absorb nutrients and process waste.

Traveler's diarrhea is a digestive tract disorder that commonly causes loose stools and stomach cramps. It's caused by eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water. Fortunately, traveler's diarrhea usually isn't serious in most people — it's just unpleasant.

When you visit a place where the climate or sanitary practices are different from yours at home, you have an increased risk of developing traveler's diarrhea.

To reduce your risk of traveler's diarrhea, be careful about what you eat and drink while traveling. If you do develop traveler's diarrhea, chances are it will go away without treatment. However, it's a good idea to have doctor-approved medicines with you when you travel to high-risk areas. This way, you'll be prepared in case diarrhea gets severe or won't go away.

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Traveler's diarrhea may begin suddenly during your trip or shortly after you return home. Most people improve within 1 to 2 days without treatment and recover completely within a week. However, you can have multiple episodes of traveler's diarrhea during one trip.

The most common symptoms of traveler's diarrhea are:

  • Suddenly passing three or more looser watery stools a day.
  • An urgent need to pass stool.
  • Stomach cramps.

Sometimes, people experience moderate to severe dehydration, ongoing vomiting, a high fever, bloody stools, or severe pain in the belly or rectum. If you or your child experiences any of these symptoms or if the diarrhea lasts longer than a few days, it's time to see a health care professional.

When to see a doctor

Traveler's diarrhea usually goes away on its own within several days. Symptoms may last longer and be more severe if it's caused by certain bacteria or parasites. In such cases, you may need prescription medicines to help you get better.

If you're an adult, see your doctor if:

  • Your diarrhea lasts beyond two days.
  • You become dehydrated.
  • You have severe stomach or rectal pain.
  • You have bloody or black stools.
  • You have a fever above 102 F (39 C).

While traveling internationally, a local embassy or consulate may be able to help you find a well-regarded medical professional who speaks your language.

Be especially cautious with children because traveler's diarrhea can cause severe dehydration in a short time. Call a doctor if your child is sick and has any of the following symptoms:

  • Ongoing vomiting.
  • A fever of 102 F (39 C) or more.
  • Bloody stools or severe diarrhea.
  • Dry mouth or crying without tears.
  • Signs of being unusually sleepy, drowsy or unresponsive.
  • Decreased volume of urine, including fewer wet diapers in infants.

It's possible that traveler's diarrhea may stem from the stress of traveling or a change in diet. But usually infectious agents — such as bacteria, viruses or parasites — are to blame. You typically develop traveler's diarrhea after ingesting food or water contaminated with organisms from feces.

So why aren't natives of high-risk countries affected in the same way? Often their bodies have become used to the bacteria and have developed immunity to them.

Risk factors

Each year millions of international travelers experience traveler's diarrhea. High-risk destinations for traveler's diarrhea include areas of:

  • Central America.
  • South America.
  • South Asia and Southeast Asia.

Traveling to Eastern Europe, South Africa, Central and East Asia, the Middle East, and a few Caribbean islands also poses some risk. However, your risk of traveler's diarrhea is generally low in Northern and Western Europe, Japan, Canada, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.

Your chances of getting traveler's diarrhea are mostly determined by your destination. But certain groups of people have a greater risk of developing the condition. These include:

  • Young adults. The condition is slightly more common in young adult tourists. Though the reasons why aren't clear, it's possible that young adults lack acquired immunity. They may also be more adventurous than older people in their travels and dietary choices, or they may be less careful about avoiding contaminated foods.
  • People with weakened immune systems. A weakened immune system due to an underlying illness or immune-suppressing medicines such as corticosteroids increases risk of infections.
  • People with diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, or severe kidney, liver or heart disease. These conditions can leave you more prone to infection or increase your risk of a more-severe infection.
  • People who take acid blockers or antacids. Acid in the stomach tends to destroy organisms, so a reduction in stomach acid may leave more opportunity for bacterial survival.
  • People who travel during certain seasons. The risk of traveler's diarrhea varies by season in certain parts of the world. For example, risk is highest in South Asia during the hot months just before the monsoons.


Because you lose vital fluids, salts and minerals during a bout with traveler's diarrhea, you may become dehydrated, especially during the summer months. Dehydration is especially dangerous for children, older adults and people with weakened immune systems.

Dehydration caused by diarrhea can cause serious complications, including organ damage, shock or coma. Symptoms of dehydration include a very dry mouth, intense thirst, little or no urination, dizziness, or extreme weakness.

Watch what you eat

The general rule of thumb when traveling to another country is this: Boil it, cook it, peel it or forget it. But it's still possible to get sick even if you follow these rules.

Other tips that may help decrease your risk of getting sick include:

  • Don't consume food from street vendors.
  • Don't consume unpasteurized milk and dairy products, including ice cream.
  • Don't eat raw or undercooked meat, fish and shellfish.
  • Don't eat moist food at room temperature, such as sauces and buffet offerings.
  • Eat foods that are well cooked and served hot.
  • Stick to fruits and vegetables that you can peel yourself, such as bananas, oranges and avocados. Stay away from salads and from fruits you can't peel, such as grapes and berries.
  • Be aware that alcohol in a drink won't keep you safe from contaminated water or ice.

Don't drink the water

When visiting high-risk areas, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Don't drink unsterilized water — from tap, well or stream. If you need to consume local water, boil it for three minutes. Let the water cool naturally and store it in a clean covered container.
  • Don't use locally made ice cubes or drink mixed fruit juices made with tap water.
  • Beware of sliced fruit that may have been washed in contaminated water.
  • Use bottled or boiled water to mix baby formula.
  • Order hot beverages, such as coffee or tea, and make sure they're steaming hot.
  • Feel free to drink canned or bottled drinks in their original containers — including water, carbonated beverages, beer or wine — as long as you break the seals on the containers yourself. Wipe off any can or bottle before drinking or pouring.
  • Use bottled water to brush your teeth.
  • Don't swim in water that may be contaminated.
  • Keep your mouth closed while showering.

If it's not possible to buy bottled water or boil your water, bring some means to purify water. Consider a water-filter pump with a microstrainer filter that can filter out small microorganisms.

You also can chemically disinfect water with iodine or chlorine. Iodine tends to be more effective, but is best reserved for short trips, as too much iodine can be harmful to your system. You can purchase water-disinfecting tablets containing chlorine, iodine tablets or crystals, or other disinfecting agents at camping stores and pharmacies. Be sure to follow the directions on the package.

Follow additional tips

Here are other ways to reduce your risk of traveler's diarrhea:

  • Make sure dishes and utensils are clean and dry before using them.
  • Wash your hands often and always before eating. If washing isn't possible, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol to clean your hands before eating.
  • Seek out food items that require little handling in preparation.
  • Keep children from putting things — including their dirty hands — in their mouths. If possible, keep infants from crawling on dirty floors.
  • Tie a colored ribbon around the bathroom faucet to remind you not to drink — or brush your teeth with — tap water.

Other preventive measures

Public health experts generally don't recommend taking antibiotics to prevent traveler's diarrhea, because doing so can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Antibiotics provide no protection against viruses and parasites, but they can give travelers a false sense of security about the risks of consuming local foods and beverages. They also can cause unpleasant side effects, such as skin rashes, skin reactions to the sun and vaginal yeast infections.

As a preventive measure, some doctors suggest taking bismuth subsalicylate, which has been shown to decrease the likelihood of diarrhea. However, don't take this medicine for longer than three weeks, and don't take it at all if you're pregnant or allergic to aspirin. Talk to your doctor before taking bismuth subsalicylate if you're taking certain medicines, such as anticoagulants.

Common harmless side effects of bismuth subsalicylate include a black-colored tongue and dark stools. In some cases, it can cause constipation, nausea and, rarely, ringing in your ears, called tinnitus.

  • Feldman M, et al., eds. Infectious enteritis and proctocolitis. In: Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease: Pathophysiology, Diagnosis, Management. 11th ed. Elsevier; 2021. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed May 25, 2021.
  • LaRocque R, et al. Travelers' diarrhea: Microbiology, epidemiology, and prevention. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed May 26, 2021.
  • Ferri FF. Traveler diarrhea. In: Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2023. Elsevier; 2023. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed April 28, 2023.
  • Diarrhea. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/diarrhea. Accessed April 27, 2023.
  • Travelers' diarrhea. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2020/preparing-international-travelers/travelers-diarrhea. Accessed April 28, 2023.
  • LaRocque R, et al. Travelers' diarrhea: Clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and treatment. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed May 26, 2021.
  • Khanna S (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic. May 29, 2021.
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Meaning of travel-sick in English

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  • airsickness
  • bring someone up
  • carsickness
  • regurgitate
  • sick something up
  • sick to your stomach idiom
  • sick-making
  • sickeningly
  • spew (something) up

Translations of travel-sick

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examining and considering your own ideas, thoughts, and feelings, instead of talking to other people about them

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