Motion Sickness

Causes of Motion Sickness

Your eyes DO NOT feel motion but your inner ear DOES

Sometimes when you travel, the motion that your inner ear feels does not match with what your eyes are seeing and may be one of the causes of motion sickness. Typically, this form of motion sickness occurs when you are enclosed in either a cabin (such as on a ship) or else you are enclosed in a passenger compartment (such as on an airplane or a train). In these instances, your vestibular system may actually feel motion (i.e. Side to side or up or down) but you may not actually be able to see the movement either because the windows are closed on an airplane or you are inside a ship without any port holes. When we are inside a cabin or a passenger compartment in such situations, your eyes are telling you that you are in a stationary space. However, your vestibular system is trying to tell your brain that you are moving. The disconnect between the two senses may be the cause of your motion sickness.

Your eyes DO feel motion but your inner ear DOES NOT

Another cause of motion sickness may be when your eyes sense motion but your inner ear does not. Typically, this cause of motion sickness occurs when you are watching a movie (typically on large screen theaters such as IMAX or OMNI MAX), sitting in a simulator (including virtual reality rides), or playing a video game. Essentially, your eyes are telling your brain that your body is moving based solely upon the visual information it is receiving. Medical professionals like to call this form of motion sickness, Visually Induced Motion Sickness or VIMS for short.

Your body is experiencing complex movements

The third cause of motion sickness may occur when your body is moving in multiple directions at the same time. Examples include:

  • When you are an airplane that is turning and bouncing up and down due to turbulence.
  • When you are riding in a car that is not only turning around a curve but also descending a hill at the same time.
  • When you are traveling on a boat that is moving slowly forward but also rocking up and down.

In these sorts of situations, your inner ear is trying to balance your body in relation to the multiple motions that it is experiencing. When the brain cannot coordinate all of this disparate information correctly, then motion sickness may result. Surprisingly, complex movements and your vestibular system may be more responsible for motion sickness than a discrepancy between what your eyes are seeing and what your body is feeling. Scientists hypothesize that this is primarily the case because blind people may also develop motion sickness.

Now that we understand some of the major causes of motion sickness, we can now turn our attention towards treatments and remedies to help alleviate your symptoms.