Preventing Motion Sickness - what's your experience?


Both pilots and passengers who suffer from motion sickness often ask what the may do to prevent it;

What might be your recommendations be concerning; drugs to prevent sickness, what to eat or not eat, or best time of day to fly.


I’ve heard of a heavy duty anti-motion sickness drug, known as an Air Force Cocktail - a mix of PHENERGAN and/or DEXEDRINE.

On the internet, searches come back as PHENERGAN and EPHEDRIN.

Just curious if anyone has any knowledge of the aforementioned? I’d just like to get thru the first few flights without serious illness!!! Generally I’d never even take an aspirin.


The Science Of Motion Sickness
Science Daily When he began his research on motion sickness, Tom Stoffregen thought finding test subjects would be difficult. After all, it’s called motion sickness because it results in headaches, dizziness, and, often, literally being sick. What kind of people would be eager to find out what it takes to make them throw up?

Tom Stoffregen monitors an experiment on his computer as the writer plays test subject. (Photo by Patrick O’Leary)U students, it turns out. A lot of them.

“Undergraduate students, as a class, are suicidal,” Stoffregen says bluntly. “I’m flooded with volunteers.” He suspects the mass offering of students may have something to do with misplaced pride. “People think, ‘You can’t make me throw up,’” he says. Unfortunately for them, Stoffregen, a professor in the College of Education and Human Development’s School of Kinesiology, has invested a lot of time and effort into finding out exactly what brings on motion sickness. And, like an academic 007, he’s got a license to test.

Stoffregen’s interest in motion sickness goes back to his childhood, when he was interested in space flight. He knew some astronauts suffered motion sickness, and after studying motion in graduate school and working for NASA, he wanted to find out why.

People have been motion sick for thousands of years, says Stoffregen, conjuring visions of dizzy Neanderthals and green-faced Vikings, but no one is sure why.

“There’s an intuitive assumption that motion sickness is caused by the inner ear,” he says. So far, the only approach to the problem has been studying how the sensations in the inner ear and eyes are different in situations when motion sickness results. For example, when a person is in a car and the eyes report movement but the body thinks it’s stationary. Stoffregen thinks, however, that these perceptual differences are not what causes motion sickness. After all, nearly every person on this planet has experienced those perceptual differences at some point or another, and if we all reacted by being motion sick, well, let’s just say the world would be a much different place. We’d have to take pilgrimages instead of planes, for one thing, and the rides at Disneyland would become the stuff of children’s nightmares.

But if perceptual differences are not the cause of motion sickness, then what is? Movement, says Stoffregen. He measures the movement of people subjected to his sickness-inducing tests, and “the people who are going to get sick commence to move in really weird ways,” he says, imitating the type of staggering walk typical after tequila night at the bar. Even when the subjects are strapped to an upright stretcher, the ones who feel sick still move a little. “They wriggle,” says Stoffregen. Due to individual differences to sensitivity, only about half of Stoffregen’s test subjects feel sick. Those who don’t also don’t wriggle, which makes Stoffregen think that movement is the key factor behind motion sickness.

Stoffregen has tested his theory extensively in the University’s Human Factors Research Laboratory. His tests are all designed to make a person feel motion sick, but the test subjects remain stationary while the scenery around them shifts. In one test, a room-like structure is set on metal tracks. The subject stands on a platform as the “room,” which has three walls and a ceiling, slides forward and backward on the tracks. The effect of the moving room has also been computerized, so a subject can stand in front of a huge screen and feel the same effects. Stoffregen also has an Xbox in his lab, which he asks test subjects to play. He doesn’t even need special games. “The games are so realistic now, they can make people sick,” he explains.

Being an undergraduate myself (though not suicidal) it only seemed right to undergo one test. Stoffregen directed me to the moving room, where he placed a two-by-four board on the platform before standing me on it. An inch of my flip-flops extended past each edge of the two-by-four, placing me just slightly off-balance. The dcor was hurl-worthy on its own: The walls and ceiling were covered in white wallpaper veined with blue, giving the room the air of a huge marble crypt, and the focal piece was a bland map of the United States that only added to the atmosphere.

Stoffregen told me to focus on the map, then pulled the room backward a few feet. The map came zooming at my face, and it felt as if the floor had tilted backward 45 degrees. I took an involuntary step back (off the two-by-four), certain that I would fall over otherwise. Test subjects often endure 30 to 40 minutes of this, Stoffregen said, but 30 seconds was enough for me. No macho pride here; I fully believed he could make me toss my cookies.

Interestingly enough, Stoffregen says that no one knows why motion sickness often results in nausea and vomiting. As yet there is no scientific explanatinon for why seasickness makes you spew, carsickness makes you blow chunks, roller coasters make you ralph, or transoceanic flights to Osaka will make your stomach say sayonara to that sushi.

But despite undergoing tests designed to make people sick, no participants have ever actually done the technicolor yawn in the lab.

“We’re interested in how [motion sickness] begins, not how it ends,” Stoffregen says. “No on has ever thrown up in my lab. And that’s a record I’m proud to keep.”


I’m sure you’ve figured this out on your own research by now-- Here is some info I pulled from some of my old paramedic books and online searches…(

Phenergan- In the typical 25 mg oral dose, promethazine (Phenergan), which is an antihistamine, is the only phenothiazine that is effective against motion sickness, perhaps because it reportedly has the strongest central anticholinergic action among this class of drugs. (Note: Compazine is another phenothiazine anti-emetic however, is also a tranqualizer and may not be a good idea for a pilot…)

The onset of effectiveness occurs at 2 hours and its duration ranges from reported 6 hours to as long as 18 hours. Side effects include significant drowsiness, dry mouth, and dizziness. Adding d-amphetamine or ephedrine to the promethazine regimen can reduce drowsiness.

Ephedrine- Because the sympathomimetics, such as d-amphetamine and ephedrine, increase the release of norepinephrine into the CNS, they appear to counter the increased activity of acetylcholine-sensitive neurons stimulated by vestibular activation. d-Amphetamine has been shown to protect against motion sickness when used alone and to act synergistically when combined with promethazine. It reduces the sleepiness and performance decrement produced by promethazine. The routine use of this controlled drug is unjustified, however, considering its addiction potential.

Other considerations for medication choices-- Compazine, Meclizine(Bonine), Cyclizine, Dramamine, Benadryl

Almost all of the medications that are effective at ‘treating’ motion sickness are antihistimines and do so thanks to their anticholinergic effects. It should be noted the most common side effect is drowsiness and dizziness (ironically also a symptom of motion sickness) - Most will have a warning not to drive or operate heavy machinery-- Does that limit you to ‘lighter than air’ craft??

I’m not sure about using Claritin-D for this as an off the label use-- It is an antihistimine with pseudophedrine added… made for cold/ allergy it is basically a pakaged deal already mixed- Might require prescription, Allegra also has a mixed version I think…

Ok, sorry- Flying and medicine- my 2 weaknesses- Hope all this helps! Anyone still awake? Hello?


For someone who has had a major onset of airsickness (no seasickness, carsickness, just when I fly) in the last 3 or so years, causing me to put my goal of getting my PPL on hold, this is VERY interesting. I have had my inner ear checked by two different ENT doctors, and they could find nothing. I got sick so bad once when flying with my father in-law, I had to fly back to RVS with an IV in my arm with a major anti-nausea/saline solution with a sedative to knock me out (hence, I also learned NEVER to take a small plane into one of those cute little "L"s you see on the weather map). My father in-law even tried taking me up everyday for three weeks straight to “bump and throw me around” to see if I could just get used to it. Nothing. I may try Claritin-D, combining it with ginger pills (thank you Mythbusters, which, by the way, ginger pills do actually work). I have never been sick on a commercial flight, just in smaller GA aircraft.


Here are two bits of hangar wisdom. Use at your own risk, but I have gotten good feedback on both of them.

  1. The main cause of vomiting due to motion sickness is fear of vomiting due to motion sickness. There is no physiological reason for you to vomit. Put it out of your head, because that is where it is. My theory on this is that many have “learned” the behavior because they once got motion sickness and vomited because they were already sick. The vomiting likely reduced the symptoms, or caused the motion to stop.

  2. Look at a point on the horizon. When at the yoke, pick your point and fly to it. The more you fly without getting motion sickness, the less you will get motion sickness. Fly at sunrise as much as possible until you adapt.


Along with the ginger trick… Peppermint oil or most things pepperminty are supposed to calm gastric secretions… My better half suggests sour apple jolly ranchers- worked for her while she was pregnant :wink:


Just to let you know, I appreciate all the answers.

I used to work for Skycharter, and Innotech Aviation in Toronto. I’ve gone on many corporate jet flights and never even felt ill. On commercial there has been acouple of times I wasn’t felling well, but only became physically ill once.

In general aviation aircraft, it isn’t just throwing up, it is the ill feeling you get that can stay with you for the entire day! I’ve actually survived all my flights, (not done well after on occasion), but it’s just slowly getting back in the sky. Each flight gets a little easier.


May I ask wht you are flying in and what part of the country?


I live close to Buttonville Airport just north of Toronto. I took an SR-22 GTS up at Oshawa Airport, and had some fun around Lake Scugog and back.

There is a SR-20 for sale at Buttonville, I’m not sure if it is still available or not. I’ll be flying with Toronto Airways, you can start off in their Cessna 150’s, 172’s, and 172S’s.

However, it would be nice to do it all in our own Cirrus, so I’ll see how it all works out.



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To :
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Go for a trip to London and look at the diamond DA40. It is between the Cirrus and the Cessna, and you can start out it in it MUCH cheaper than in a Cirrus which will cost you a lot more in insurance for year one.

I was wondering about your flying in a turbulent place, or in a plane with too little visibility or if it was about wing loading. If you got wiggy in the Cirrus, it kills my theory.

Do you get the bad feeling even when you were piloting?


I flew back from Sudbury to Toronto in a friends Cessna 310, thru clouds and bouncing all over the place. I did not feel well. That was the only time when I was doing the flying that I went down hill fast.

That was an interesting point, at the controls I’m usually fine, it’s when an instructor starts showing me what they want, my health declines fast. I was thinking of doing my entire license in a short period of time.

It seems the more I fly, the less I get sick. However I’ve been so sick at times, you can’t get me back in a plane. Other than gravol, I’ve never tried anything else. I figured if half of the NASA astronauts are incapacitated by motion sickness, there must be some serious medical remedies out there? Or at least working on them?

As for the Diamond, a trip out to London sounds like an excellent idea. I actually like the Diamond. I know Brampton Flying Club has a DA-20 I could take for a ride. It actually looks like a really fun plane to train on. (I notice the Moncton Flying Club has a fleet of Diamonds). The 40 I don’t think I’ve seen one up close.

The thing is, I’ve got acouple of friends, who we plan to purchase as a partnership. My one friend is 260 lbs, he wouldn’t even get in the DA-20.Besides the actual aircraft, the interior on the Cirrus, which is similar to the BMW 5 series car, is spacious, comfortable, and visually stunning!, plus my friend fits in comfort in any of the 4 seats!


Sounds like it is getting better. You may not want to fly solo in IMC though. Sounds like you may be prone to spatial orientation.

Like I said, fly your lessons in the morning when the air is smooth.

Your buddy may, or may not like the 40 due to cockpit size. If you can learn in the 20 yourself I find it more fun than the 172, and I think you will like the stick and the way it handles bumps.


Last time I looked, NASA was using Promethazine for motion sickness in space.


I should have been a bit more specific on my earlier post-- The use of Claratin-D for motion sickness was based on my own theory and no actual medical proof… It is the same type of med as the others used for nausea so I thought, hey, maybe… Just a little CYA :wink:


Claritin D has 2 active ingredients: desloratadine, an H1 antagonist and pseudoephedrine, a decongestant (which also has some central nervous system stimulatory properties similar to amphetamine). There is some clinical evidence that H1 antagonists have some therapeutic benefit in treating motion sickness. I have not seen much data that suggests that pseudoephedrine has therapeutic benefit in motion sickness. While I agree with you that there is some evidence that amphetamines can increase the benefit of other drugs in treating motion sickness, the evidence for ephedrine (or pseudoephedrine) working is poor to non-existent.

To quote one study: "Ephedrine, which is not a controlled drug, could be used instead , although in combination with the anticholinergics, it is much less effective than d-amphetamine, and its usefulness is questionable based on available laboratory studies. " Tokola O, Latinen LA, Aho J, Gothoni G, Vapaatolo H. Drug treatment of motion sickness: scopolamine alone and combined with ephedrine in real and simulated situations. Aviat Space Environ Med 55:636-641, 1984.

As always, you should consult your own doctor and not take medical advice, including mine, from web sites.


Very interesting, I just looked up Promethazine, which I hadn’t heard of before, and it is stated as “Coast Guard Cocktail!”

[]Coast Guard Cocktail ]( listed on


I can’t say that I have ever really experienced motion sickness while flying. For passengers I have recommended with 100% success, reaching through your legs and grabbing the seat cushion.


Maybe this will provide a clue as to what motion sickness really is. I had a rare ear disease most of my life and all of the bones in one ear are gone, no eardrum and most of what remains is surgically altered. If I stand or sit in front of an arcade game (or anything comparable) and watch a car driving or a plane flying (that I’m virtually controlling), I am fine if it’s going straight. If the car or plane makes a turn, I immediately fall into the direction of the turn and literally fall onto the floor LOL. I HAVE NO CONTROL OVER IT ONCE IT HITS. But it does NOT make me sick.

It feels like my brain in spinning out of control in the direction of the turn and it causes my body to perceive that turn and follow it without my control. Really weird. My ear surgeon can’t exlain it. However, I can control it before it starts. If say the race car I’m virtually driving makes a big turn, if I focus on the BACKGROUND that’s moving, and NOT the car or plane itself, I don’t get dizzy and fall out of the chair.

I have never gotten dizzy, sick or any motion sickness on a real airplane, other than the normal feet in my mouth sensation during a 1,000 turbulence drop. I’ve only flown straight when actually flying a real plane for a few minutes, and don’t have a pilot’s license so don’t know whether flying a real plane on a curve would cause the same sensation and I don’t intend to find out.


There’s your problem right there. You think you’re going to get sick so you are. I remember when I was a kid I used to get car sick all the time. I used to hate going for long drives because I just knew I was going to get sick. One day my Grandma came along for a trip and I told her I knew I was going to get car sick. She told me she had a sure fire remedy for motion sickness and it was to suck on lemon drop hard candy. She said you take about one an hour and there’s no way you get sick. I did it and guess what, I didn’t get sick.

So for years after that I always took lemon drops along on long car rides and they always worked. It took me a while to realize it wasn’t lemon drops that was curing the sickness. It was all in my head and the lemon drops were just a placebo.