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What is Airsickness?

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  • Written By: Lily Ruha
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 26 September 2016
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Airsickness is a form of motion sickness experienced by some air travelers. It is caused by a disruption in the body’s balance and equilibrium. When the inner ear, sensory nerves and eyes send conflicting messages to the brain, an airsickness sufferer will experience uncomfortable symptoms. Travelers can take prescription and non-prescription medicines to prevent or reduce these symptoms. The symptoms usually subside and disappear completely once the motion has stopped.

When riding in an airplane, a traveler’s inner ear may sense movement that his eyes do not detect. This conflicting message to the brain causes disequilibrium. As a result, the body experiences a range of symptoms. Nausea, headaches, fatigue, paleness, dizziness and vomiting are some of the body’s reactions to airsickness.

Sometimes the cause of airsickness is psychological in nature. An air traveler who is accustomed to getting sick on planes might develop anxiety in anticipation of flying. In such a case, airsickness symptoms can develop before the plane leaves the ground. Relaxation techniques such as meditation and mind-body therapies have proven useful in helping individuals relax and prevent such symptoms.

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Trying to prevent air travel sickness is important because once the symptoms begin, they usually do not cease until after the airplane has landed and stopped moving. There are several strategies for preventing airsickness. Sitting in the front of the airplane or in locations that experience less movement, such as near the wings, is usually helpful. Making sure there is adequate ventilation directed at the face through the use of airplane air vents also is important. Eating lighter meals and avoiding fatty or greasy meals prior to travel can help decrease the symptoms of nausea and malaise.

Some airsickness sufferers take prescription and over-the-counter medication to prevent or decrease their uncomfortable symptoms. These medications are usually to be taken prior to travel. The antihistamine medicines reduce inner ear stimulation, decreasing the incidence of dizziness, vomiting and nausea. A skin patch is used in some cases and administered behind the ear prior to travel. Sedatives may also be used for air travel sickness to minimize the detection of motion.

The effects of air travel sickness are temporary but problematic for individuals who need to travel for a living. Pilots and flight attendants, for example, need to address the issue in order to sustain long-term careers. Studies show that implementing relaxation and breathing techniques have helped many of these individuals to permanently overcome this problem. In general, as individuals become accustomed to flying, their incidences of motion sickness decrease.

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