What causes motion sickness?

If the mere thought of a leisurely Sunday drive or a sunset ocean cruise starts your stomach gurgling and turns you into a sweaty mess, you’re probably at least a little familiar with motion sickness! But what causes that unwell feeling that occurs when you’re in or on a moving vehicle?

Normally, your brain receives sensory information from your eyes, inner ears, and nerves to help understand your body’s movement and environment. Motion sickness happens when these senses get all muddled up and the information that your brain receives doesn’t match up. Basically, the things you see and the things you feel don’t match what you expect to see and feel. 

The cause of motion sickness is movement that your body is not used to – and that movement can be up and down, side to side, straight or bendy, or even spinning. How bad your motion sickness gets and how long it lasts for depends on how different the signals to your brain are, as well your ability to get used to the movement that’s causing you to feel unwell.

Can anyone get motion sickness?

Motion sickness is fairly common – most people will experience motion sickness at least once in their life. And while motion sickness can affect pretty much anyone given enough unpleasant movement, some people may be more likely to experience motion sickness than others.

Firstly, age plays a big role. Children are more prone to getting motion sickness than adults, particularly children aged 6 to 12 years of age. Motion sickness is uncommon in babies and becomes less common in teenage years and into adulthood, even becoming rare over the age of 50 years. Learn more about motion sickness in children here.

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

Motion sickness symptoms

While nausea – that sick feeling in your stomach – is the most obvious symptom of motion sickness, there are a bunch of other signs and symptoms that can also occur. Some people will experience sweating, headaches, or more burping and yawning than normal. Feeling dizzy, sleepy, or cranky are also common with motion sickness. 

When the movement causing the nausea continues, it can progress to retching or vomiting. In some cases, motion sickness can lead to more serious symptoms that affect people’s ability to concentrate, eat and drink, or even walk.

Different types of motion sickness

Motion sickness is often called travel sickness because it typically occurs when people are travelling in a vehicle as a response to the movement caused by that vehicle. Whatever vehicle you are travelling in, it’s the same mismatch of sensory information that triggers the same signs and symptoms. But there are different factors specific to different vehicles that can help understand why you might experience motion sickness in particular situations but not others.

Sea sickness

Sea sickness is the name given to motion sickness that happens when you are on a boat and is probably the most common form of motion sickness. It’s the up and down, rocking and rolling motions of a boat on the water trigger motion sickness, and it is often worse in smaller boats and when the weather is bad.

Car sickness 

Car sickness, as the name suggests, is motion sickness that occurs when you are travelling in a car. Specific triggers for car sickness can include bumpy, windy, hilly roads, sitting in the backseat, lack of fresh air, and reading or looking at screens while travelling. Being the driver often helps lessen motion sickness because you can see the horizon and control the steering. 

Other forms of travel sickness

Being a passenger on a bus or train can also cause motion sickness, particularly if you are not facing forwards. Some people also experience air travel sickness when on a plane, which can be triggered or made worse if the plane hits turbulence during the flight.

So now that you understand a bit about the why, how, and what of motion sickness, the burning question is whether you can avoid it happening to you. Luckily for you, there are motion sickness medications such as KWELLS® Travel Sickness Prevention chewable tablets that can help prevent motion sickness when taken before travel. 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 is more common in children than in adults, with children aged 6 to 12 years old most likely to experience travel sickness.


Motion sickness tends to occur less frequently as children become teenagers as they get used to travelling. Adults do not experience motion sickness as much as children, and it is uncommon in people aged over 50 years.


In most cases, signs and symptoms of motion sickness go away once the triggering movement stops, and usually resolve completely after 24 to 72 hours.


Children and women, especially when pregnant, are more prone to motion sickness, and you may be more likely to experience motion sickness if you have a family history of motion sickness or a condition that already makes you nauseous (e.g., migraines).