Treating and Preventing Car Sickness

Natalie Josef
January 4, 2012

I am a pretty sensitive person. I have allergies to animals and dust. My threshold for pain is low. I am the pickiest eater you will ever meet. My eyes can barely tolerate sunshine and a loud noise is enough to make me jump out of my seat. Because of this, you can understand why taking a trip to Denver over the holidays left me feeling a little apprehensive.

Not only is Denver a lot colder than San Francisco, it’s also a mile above sea level. And while the city itself is pretty flat, the surrounding mountains are not and the wind on those winding roads is enough to blow your vehicle off the road—well at least it felt like that to me.

Now, I am prone to car sickness on even the least windiest of roads, so when we took a trip up to Estes Park on New Year’s Eve morning for breakfast, I was concerned. It was another 2,000 feet higher than Denver and the roads up the mountain were unrelenting icy switchbacks. The wind that day was over 80 miles an hour. It was dangerous up there and I was bracing myself for travel sickness of the worst kind.

Thankfully, I slept on the way up there, laying down flat in the cab of a truck, so the trip up wasn’t that bad. But coming down—it was all I could do not to throw up. Whenever I felt ill, my wife and her dad said, “Open the window and get some fresh air,” but that didn’t seem to matter at all. So, it got me wondering—what does help car sickness? Is it preventable altogether? Here is some of the advice I found on preventing and dealing with car sickness.

Monitor Food Intake and Odors
Limiting your consumption of heavy, fatty foods and avoiding alcohol go a long way toward preventing car sickness, so pigging out on that ham and cheese omelet and biscuit with butter and jelly probably wasn’t the best way to prevent motion sickness. If you know you are going to be tackling some rough roads, try to eat lightly before and avoid food smells altogether, especially if they are spicy, greasy, and fatty.

Sit in the Front Seat and Face Forward
I never get car sickness when I am actually driving, but being the driver isn’t always possible. If you can’t drive, try to get the front seat. Whatever you do, don’t choose a seat facing backward.

Fresh Air and Focus
Apparently, getting fresh air works for some people, even though it doesn’t seem to make a difference to me at all. It’s also a good idea to focus on a fixed point in front of you or on the horizon itself. Don’t turn your head or look from side-to-side if you can avoid it. And don’t read while the car is moving—never a good idea!

Take Some Medicine
For me, Dramamine is basically a horse tranquilizer—if I take it, I pass out immediately and am groggy for hours afterward, which isn’t what you want when you’re visiting your in-laws. Maybe Dramamine works okay for you, but if not, you can also try Bonine and Antivert. There is also a medicated patch (Transderm-Scop) that contains scopolamine, which also helps reduce motion sickness. If you don’t have to do anything once you arrive at your destination or don’t have to be perky and charming for your in-laws, I would recommend taking medication as it seems to help the most.

Other Remedies

  • Eat ginger cookies, candies, mints, capsules, or drink ginger tea or ale—anything with ginger will help 
  • Mint also seems to help, so look into peppermint tea or buy fresh mint to chew on. Sucking on peppermint candy also helps. 
  • Lightly sniffing rubbing alcohol wipes may relieve nausea; sometimes smelling newspaper can help, too 
  • Chew gum 
  • Listen to music or a book on tape to get your mind off things 
  • Take breaks—stop the car, take a little walk, and stretch your legs 
  • Don’t talk about motion sickness or even look at anyone else who might be experiencing it—you are more likely to get sick if you do
Natalie Josef

About the Author

Natalie Josef is an automotive expert at RepairPal, the leading online source of auto repair resources and estimates. With many ASE Master certified mechanics on staff who have decades of experience, RepairPal knows all the fine points of car repair.

1 User Comment

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By , January 04, 2012
Leaving Mendocino,CA and driving hwy 128 to though the Anderson valley to hwy 101 is a great drive, but it will make my wife car sick every time! Next time we will have only a light breakfast...