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While we’ve all kept travel to a minimum during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have started to venture back out with health and safety precautions in mind. And since we haven’t traveled for extended periods of time, motion sickness can feel even more uncomfortable than usual. Its symptoms can strike whether you are on a plane or taking a road trip and include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, clamminess, and sweating. According to Dr. Jason Fishel, MD, an internal medicine physician at Atrium Health Mecklenburg Medical Group—Ballantyne, common actions like reading or looking at a phone or tablet while you are moving can actually intensify this ailment, due to a nervous system imbalance. Ahead, we get more insight into why motion sickness occurs and ways you can treat it if it flairs up while you travel for the first time in months.
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The Causes of Motion Sickness
Dr. Fishel notes that there are actually three signals from our body to our brain that communicate movement. Our eyes see that we are moving, our inner ear detects balance, and our nervous system senses where our arms and legs are in space. “If there is conflicting information coming from these systems, motion sickness can develop,” he says. “If you are sitting in the back seat of a car reading a book, you are not visually seeing any movement, but your body still gets signals about acceleration and rotation that are not accounted for by what you are seeing. This then causes the release of chemicals in your brain that can trigger nausea.”
How to Prepare for Travel
Of course, as you travel—especially during the end of the year—motion sickness might feel like the least of your worries. “As travel picks up for the holidays, it is reasonable to expect some possibly risky situations to pop up with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Fishel says. He recommends not only following your local regulations in terms of wearing masks and social distancing, but also making sure you are aware of the COVID-19 case count of your destination (is it a hot spot?) and that locale’s health recommendations, as well. It goes without saying, but make sure to wash or sanitize your hands as often as possible during transit.
As for that motion sickness? While you are in the midst of traveling, Dr. Fishel says the best way to avoid getting sick is to position your body towards the direction of motion. “For example, you would do better riding in a car focusing on the horizon in front of you than you would do sitting in the backseat, body rotated to one side, and looking at the floor of the vehicle,” he shares. You can then practice breathing exercises to lower your body’s stress levels.
How to Treat Motion Sickness
Luckily, you can also treat motion sickness: Dr. Fishel notes that acupressure bands, which are bracelets that put slight pressure on the inside of your wrist with a bead, are helpful and don’t come with any side effects. He adds that supplements with ginger, which you can take in capsule, gum, or chewable candy form, can also help if you are feeling sick to your stomach. “If these are not working for you, then the next medical recommendation would be over-the-counter medications called antihistamines,” the expert shares, noting that meclizine or diphenhydramine are most effective. “These can be taken about 30 minutes before travel to maximize the benefit.” Do keep in mind that both can both make you drowsy—meclizine lesser so than diphenhydramine (so this is not an option if you’re the one driving!). Dr. Fishel notes that if you have any other preexisting conditions or take other medications, you should check with your doctor to make sure that these are safe to add into your regimen.
If you are feeling sick all together in regard to COVID-19, he advises to avoid traveling at all costs. “Even though this is understandably a difficult decision, please make the right call and stay home rather than exposing your loved ones and potentially hundreds of people in the airport or train station to the virus,” he shares. “And be kind to each other—following these regulations can make travel take longer. Try to leave plenty of time, be patient, and treat each other with respect. We are all doing our best to keep as many people in our country as safe as we possibly can.”