What causes motion sickness?

If just the idea of boat rides and car trips is enough to churn your stomach, chances are you’ve had experience with motion sickness! But have you ever stopped to think about what actually causes that unwell feeling that happens when you’re in a moving vehicle?

Under normal circumstances, your eyes, inner ears, and nerves send signals to your brain so it can understand your body’s movement and environment. Motion sickness occurs when these signals get muddled and there is a mismatch in the information that your brain receives. Quite simply, what you are expecting to see and feel don’t match what you are actually seeing and feeling. 

Motion sickness happens when your body is not used to a particular movement. Different types of movement, including side to side, up and down, straight or bendy, and spinning motions, can all be a cause of motion sickness. How long your motion sickness continues, and how severe it gets, depends on the mismatch in the signals to your brain, and how well your body adjusts to the movement that causes it.

Can anyone get motion sickness?

Motion sickness affects most people at least once during their lifetime and can affect almost anyone given enough movement. However, some people are more likely to experience motion sickness than others.

Your age is one factor. Children are more susceptible to motion sickness than adults, particularly between the ages of 6 to 12 years. Babies under 2 years of age typically don’t get motion sickness, and it occurs less frequently in teenagers and adults. It is quite uncommon in people aged over 50 years. Learn more about motion sickness in children here.

Women are more likely to experience motion sickness than men. People with a condition that causes nausea, such as pregnancy, migraines, or vertigo, or a family history of motion sickness may also be more prone to motion sickness.

Motion sickness symptoms

The most common symptom of motion sickness is nausea (a sick feeling in your stomach), but it can also cause many other signs and symptoms. These include sweating, headaches, unusual burping and yawning, dizziness, drowsiness, or irritability. 

If the triggering movement continues, motion sickness can lead to retching or vomiting. Sometimes motion sickness can even stop people from doing their normal activities, including eating or walking.

Different types of motion sickness

Motion sickness is also called travel sickness because it affects people when they are travelling in a moving vehicle. While the same muddled senses cause nausea and other symptoms of motion sickness, different situations and vehicles may trigger motion sickness for different reasons.

Sea sickness

Sea sickness is the most common form of motion sickness and is basically just the motion sickness that you get  when on a boat. The different motions of a boat on water – bobbing up and down or rolling side to side – trigger motion sickness. Poor weather out to sea and being in a smaller boat can often make sea sickness worse.

Car sickness 

Motion sickness that occurs when travelling in a car is called car sickness. Car sickness is more likely to occur in people who sit in the backseat, or who read or look at screens while travelling. Lack of fresh air or bumpy, windy, hilly roads can also trigger or worsen car sickness. Focusing on the horizon or driving the car can help lessen motion sickness in the car. 

Other forms of travel sickness

People who travel by bus or train can also experience motion sickness, particularly when facing  backwards. Air travel sickness can hit people when flying on a plane, especially if the plane experiences turbulence during the flight.So that helps you understand causes and symptoms of motion sickness, but more importantly – can you avoid it from happening to you? Yes, you can! When taken before you travel, motion sickness medications such as SEA-LEGS® chewable tablets  can help prevent symptoms of motion sickness for up to 24 hours. For more information about medications and other helpful tips to prevent and relieve motions sickness, click here.

Always read the label and follow directions for use.

Frequently asked questions about motion sickness causes and symptoms


Motion sickness occurs more frequently in children than in adults, with children aged 6 to 12 years old more prone to getting travel sickness.


As children become teenagers, bouts of motion sickness become less common. Adults experience motion sickness less frequently than children, and it occurs rarely in people over 50 years of age.


Signs and symptoms of motion sickness typically go away after the triggering movement stops, and usually resolve completely within 24 to 72 hours.


Children and women are more prone to motion sickness, and people with a family history of motion sickness or a condition that already causes nausea (e.g., pregnancy, migraines) may be more likely to experience motion sickness.