Why do I get travel sickness?

Travel sickness is caused by a mismatch of signals to the brain between your eyes and the balance mechanism in your inner ear. The brain is confused and reacts with symptoms of travel sickness.

Why doesn't everyone get travel sickness?

Scientists still don't have the answer to this one, though it seems that women and migraine sufferers are more likely to develop motion sickness. There is a suggestion that it runs in families and that our bodies can adapt and become less susceptible. In particular, seasick sailors will often acclimatise after 3 or 4 days at sea.

What are the symptoms of travel sickness?

The main symptoms of travel sickness are pale, cold, sweaty skin, dizziness, and vomiting. The sufferer will tend to become quiet and withdrawn. If it becomes very severe, especially with a prolonged sea sickness, you can also suffer from headache, lethargy, lack of concentration, and repeated vomiting leading to dehydration.

What can I do about travel sickness apart from taking medicines?

You can try several other things as well as, or instead of, medicines - they include:

  • Sitting in a calmer part of the car, boat, or plane such as the front seat, centre of the boat, or by the wing on a plane.
  • Focusing your eyes on the distance or the route ahead by steering the boat or driving (only if not severely affected).
  • Stay in fresh air either outside or with an open window.
  • Sleeping or resting with your eyes closed.
  • Don't focus on close objects such as looking at screens or reading.
  • Do not eat heavy spicy meals or take alcohol, and avoid cooking smells.
  • Break up the journey if possible.
  • You can buy acupressure bands and anti-motion sickness glasses which some people find helpful.

What medicines help travel sickness?

Dr Fox supplies hyoscine, promethazine, and cinnarizine to treat travel sickness. Hyoscine can be used as a patch (Scopoderm) or tablets (Kwells). Promethazine (Avomine) and cinnarizine (Stugeron) are tablets. All treatments are most effective if started before you travel and feel unwell but may help to improve symptoms if you are already feeling sick.

How do I use Scopoderm patches?

The patch is stuck on the skin behind your ear and lasts for 3 days. After this it should be removed and a new patch placed behind the other ear if required. More details on the Scopoderm page and in the Scopoderm patient leaflet. It is important to remove one patch before starting another to prevent overdose and also to wash your hands after touching the patch. Avoid touching your eyes after handling the patch.

Which travel sickness medicine will work best for me?

Dr Fox offers three different tablets and patches. The table below shows the major differences. It depends on the length of your intended journey. Some people will get on better with one tablet than another, or prefer to use a patch.

Compare travel sickness medications
Medication Time before travel Treatment schedule Cost Most common side effects
Scopoderm patch 5-6 hours 1 patch every 72 hours 2-10 patches from £17.20 Drowsiness, dizziness, visual disturbance, dry mouth, decreased sweating, local skin irritation
Kwells 30 mins 1-2 tablets, repeat 6 hourly 12-36 tablets from £6.90 Drowsiness, dizziness, visual disturbance, dry mouth, decreased sweating
Avomine Previous night; 2 hours 1 tablet at bedtime, every 24 hours; 1 tablet 10-28 tablets from £6.20 Drowsiness, dizziness, restlessness, headaches, nightmares
Stugeron 2 hours 2 tablets, followed by 1 tablet every 8 hours 15-45 tablets from £3.70 Drowsiness, nausea

I am over 60 years, which travel sickness treatment is best for me?

If over 60 you should NOT take Kwells (hyoscine) or use Scopoderm patches (hyoscine) without discussing with your regular doctor first. You can take the antihistamine tablets, either Avomine (promethazine) or Stugeron (cinnarizine). If you are also taking other medicines or have certain medical conditions you may not be able to take these either. Checks are carried out during the online medical consultation.

I take other medicines - can I take travel sickness medication?

Anti-travel sickness medications can interact with some other tablets and medicines. Checks are carried out during the online medical consultation, but you should also read the patient information leaflet and if in doubt check with your usual doctor.

Can I drink alcohol with travel sickness medicines?

Alcohol should not be taken with any of the travel sickness medications.

I'm pregnant or breastfeeding - can I take travel sickness medication?

Please discuss with your regular doctor if you suffer from severe travel sickness and are pregnant or breastfeeding. The medications supplied by Dr Fox are not recommended to be taken when pregnant or breastfeeding. However in cases of extreme morning sickness - Hyperemesis gravidarum, doctors do occasionally prescribe similar medications. This is a specialist area and Dr Fox does not prescribe in pregnancy or to breastfeeding mums.

Further information

Can I drive whilst taking travel sickness medication?

All travel sickness medications can cause drowsiness and so you should not take them and drive, until you are sure that your body has adjusted to them, usually after a few days. Often the driver of a vehicle feels less travel sick as they are concentrating on the road ahead and there is less mismatch of movement signals to the brain. Do not drive if you are feeling very travel sick.

I have sensitive skin - can I use the Scopoderm patches?

Some people with sensitive skin do develop itching and soreness at the site of the patch. If this happens it will affect the absorption so the patch should be removed and an alternative travel sickness medication used instead.

I have a sticky plaster allergy - can I use Scopoderm patches?

If you have a known plaster/patch allergy, it would be preferable to choose an alternative anti-sickness method.

Are the side effects of the medicines worse than the travel sickness?

There are a lot of potential side effects from these medications but in reality most people do not have many problems and the medication enables them to undertake journeys which would otherwise be very miserable. If you suffer badly from travel sickness, and have already tried the non medical methods, then it would definitely be worth looking at the product information pages (Scopoderm, Kwells, Avomine, Stugeron) to see if there is a suitable option for you to try.

Is there lactose in travel sickness pills?

  • There is no lactose in Kwells.
  • Avomine contains lactose.
  • Stugeron contains lactose and sucrose.
Travel sickness treatment
Dr Amanda Wood

Authored 23 September 2020 by Dr A. Wood
MB ChB Manchester University 1984. NHS GP in Bristol. GMC no. 2855422

Reviewed by Dr C. Pugh, Dr B. Babor
Last reviewed 04 August 2023
Last updated 19 January 2024
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