Travel and motion sickness: An expert weighs in on Dramamine, ginger and more


Pent-up desires to travel during the COVID-19 pandemic have led to summer surges among vacation hot spots, hotels and airports. Since vaccines rolled out nationally this spring, many airlines have reported increased demand and that trend is only expected to continue. 

Studies show that motion sickness will affect most people at some point in their lives.
Studies show that motion sickness will affect most people at some point in their lives.

Travel seems to be on most of our minds. What may also come to mind is motion sickness for those who suffer from it, which is almost everybody at some point. 

“A study conducted in 2019 found that almost everyone has experienced or will experience motion sickness at some point in their lifetime,” said Natascha Tuznik, an infectious disease doctor with the UC Davis Health Traveler’s Clinic

Tuznik answers some common questions about motion sickness and ways to prevent or treat it. 

Where is motion sickness most likely to happen?

This depends upon specific conditions encountered. Seasickness is the most common form. A fun fact is that the word nausea is derived from the Greek word "naus" which means ship. Nausea literally means "ship-sickness." But it can happen to people traveling by car, bus and plane, too.

In one survey of roughly 3,200 bus passengers, 28% felt ill, 13% reported nausea and 2% vomited. Another study highlighted motion sickness experienced by passengers on commercial airline flights, finding that 24% felt ill or nauseated.   

Who’s most likely to get motion sickness?

Women are more susceptible than men. Children under the age of 2 are typically resistant to motion sickness, while those around the age of 9 are more prone. Other factors that tend to lead to motion sickness include a history of migraines, hormonal changes (pregnant women, for example), genetics and even mindset. Often, those who expect to get sick are the ones who do. 

Does Dramamine work for motion sickness?

Dramamine (dimenhydrinate) is a popular go-to remedy. It is somewhat effective at reducing motion sickness symptoms, but it is an antihistamine. Like all antihistamines, it may cause drowsiness, dizziness and decreased mental alertness. Some people may experience the exact opposite effects, including insomnia, excitability and restlessness. Unfortunately, not much can be done to mitigate the side effects. If you’ve taken it before, you should expect similar side effects each time. 

Who should not take Dramamine?

Natascha Tuznik is an infectious disease physician with UC Davis Health’s Traveler’s Clinic.

Patients with a history of glaucoma, liver impairment, asthma, seizures, prostate enlargements or urinary blockage, thyroid dysfunction and cardiovascular disease should proceed with caution and speak with their physician first. 

Does it help to take the medicine before you start traveling?

If you have a history of severe motion sickness symptoms, it’s best to take medication one hour before your trip. 

What other medication options are there?

Bonine (meclizine) is another option. In comparison to Dramamine, Bonine touts “less drowsy” formulations. This is mainly because Bonine is taken once a day and Dramamine is taken every four to six hours as needed. That said, many studies show that as a whole, Dramamine is more effective at preventing motion sickness, though it is less convenient given the dosing. 

Another option is scopolamine, which is commonly known as the round patch placed behind one’s ear.

Non-sedative antihistamines such as Zyrtec, Claritin and Allegra do not appear to be effective for motion sickness.  

What about kids with motion sickness?

As noted, children under 2 typically do not experience motion sickness, while the incidence appears to peak at age 9. Generally, the same advice applies to children as it does for adults. If you need to use medication for your child, always speak with your pediatrician first. Almost all pediatric medications are weight-based, and some may have age restrictions, as well. Please never guess a dose without seeking medical advice for your child first. 

What about pets with motion sickness?

There are many pre-emptive strategies that exist for dogs and cats to prevent motion sickness. A medication for motion sickness in dogs called Cerenia (maropitant), is available, and is prescription-only from a licensed veterinarian. Dramamine may also be used, however as with pediatric patients, it is weight-based. Speak with your veterinarian first. 

Are there ways to prevent motion sickness?

Yes. Prevention is always the best option, when possible. Some options include: 

  • Use your environment: Try looking at the horizon, if you’re at sea, or another stationary object or fixture. 
  • Avoid reading. 
  • Where you sit matters. If you’re on a boat, avoid the upper levels. If you’re in a car, try to sit in the front. If you’re on a plane, look for a seat over the front edge of the wing.
  • Alternative methods like hard ginger candy, P6 acupressure and motion sickness & travel wristbands (one brand is Sea-Bands) can work well. 

For people with mild motion sickness history (which typically means that it does not interfere with your ability to function), the recommendations are for environmental modifications and complementary and alternative treatments mentioned above. Medications are typically not recommended, given that side effects will typically outweigh the benefits.