Dear Doctors: If a flight I'm on has turbulence or if it descends too fast and the pressure drops, I get very nauseated. Why does that happen? I've tried motion sickness medication, but it makes me feel like I am in a tunnel. Even the nondrowsy kind knocks me out to where I can’t function. What else can I do?
Dear Reader: As many travelers reading your question know, you have been experiencing motion sickness. Nausea is one of several unpleasant symptoms associated with the condition. Additional effects can include feeling dizzy or lightheaded, sweating, headache and vomiting. These symptoms can arise when someone is a passenger in a moving vehicle, such as a car, bus, train, boat, amusement park ride or aircraft. It's possible, but less common, for the person who is operating the vehicle to also experience motion sickness. For some people, vertiginous visuals in a film can bring on the symptoms.
Motion sickness occurs when the information that your eyes are relaying to the brain differs from what it is learning from the inner ear, the muscles and the joints. Each plays a role in the complexities of spatial awareness, which allows us to remain upright, to move deliberately and to both maintain and regain balance. In the face of conflicting input from multiple sources, the brain struggles to put together a logical narrative. And for some people, the result of this prolonged disconnect is the misery of motion sickness.
While motion sickness medication can be effective, it can have side effects. These include the sedative effect that you have experienced. It also can cause dry mouth, constipation, dizziness, blurred vision and nausea.
For people who can't tolerate medications that contain a drug called dimenhydrinate (check the ingredient labels), which is an antihistamine, those containing another drug, meclizine, can be a better option. It, too, is an antihistamine, but it causes less drowsiness.
If over-the-counter medications aren’t working, ask your doctor if a prescription medication might be right for you. They may also recommend vitamin B6, which can be helpful for nausea.
Many people turn to natural remedies to manage motion sickness. Research shows that ginger and chamomile, as a tea or other beverage or in a hard candy, can help fend off nausea. Some people swear by anti-nausea wristbands, which trigger an acupuncture pressure point and are widely available over the counter.
Behavioral changes are also important. A window seat allows you a view of the horizon. By looking at a fixed point, you give your brain a frame of reference from which to unscramble the mixed signals it is getting. Turbulence can feel more pronounced at the back of the plane, so opt for a forward seat close to or over the wing near the plane’s center of gravity. Use the vent above your seat to circulate the air around you. And be kind to your stomach. Avoid large meals and fatty foods, and stay hydrated.
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