Balance disorders

Motion sickness

What is motion sickness?

Some people sleep well on a rocking boat. Others get very sick. Sea sickness, air sickness and car sickness are also referred to as ‘travel sickness’ or ‘motion sickness’. Motion sickness is hypersensitivity to constant, passive movement of the body in a moving vehicle. Besides travel by car, boat, plane, train or bus, some people who suffer motion sickness also feel queasy in an elevator.

Motion sickness is most common in children, perhaps because their balance organ is not yet fully developed. Women are relatively more likely to suffer from motion sickness than men. No one knows why that is. Although most people grow out of the complaints as they age, there are also those who suffer from motion sickness all their lives. In its extreme form, motion sickness can temporarily disrupt one’s whole body coordination.

What causes motion sickness?

Motion sickness seems to be caused by sensory mismatches, i.e., the various senses send conflicting information to the brain. Motion sickness occurs when you can no longer orientate yourself visually when on a rolling boat or you cannot see the road. Your eyes see a static horizon, you are sitting still, and yet you feel you are moving as if in a car. Your eyes tell the brain that you are sitting still, but your balance organ reports a rocking or rolling movement to the brain, thus confusing the brain. The balance organ responds by stimulating the vomiting centre in the brain, causing nausea and sometimes vomiting, pallor and sweating.

This does not mean that the balance organ is defective; it is the brain that is not able to process the conflicting stimuli correctly. No one knows why some people suffer from motion sickness and others do not.

Symptoms related to motion sickness

Motion sickness can make you feel very miserable. It makes you nauseous, sometimes so much so that you have to vomit. You suffer abdominal pain and headaches, sweat breaks out in your hands and on your face, you turn pale and you may feel faint and dizzy.


Maarten Bakker (41) falls four metres off quay

My wife and children watched me go downhill, from bad to worse

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