Ã¢—Âº You hit the open roadÃ¢â‚¬”or ocean, or skyÃ¢â‚¬”and while nothing sounds alarming, your ears switch to red alert. Yes, your ears. Deep inside each one sits a series of tiny fluid-filled chambers called semicircular canals. As your head moves, so does the canals' fluid; it swishes over microscopic hairs that send nerve signals to the brain. The message: Your body is in motion.
Ã¢—Âº When you're, say, running or walking, that message matches visual cues from your eyes. But when you catch a ride, things can go haywire. Moving! say the ears. Sitting still! say the eyes, since most of your immediate surroundings (e.g., the airplane cabin, the book you're reading in the car's backseat) are fixed.
Ã¢—Âº Your noggin is now besieged with conflicting sensory signals. Particularly disturbed is an area of the brain stem called the vestibular nuclei, which engages a nearby tangle of nerve cells named...the vomiting center. Seriously, that's the technical term.
Ã¢—Âº The vomiting center has a direct line toÃ¢â‚¬”you guessed itÃ¢â‚¬”your digestive tract. You're now nauseous, or even sick to your stomach. Probably pretty pale and sweaty, too.
Ã¢—Âº Once you're queasy, there's no quick fix. In any mode of transport, stare at the horizon; doing so may help sync your motion sensors. If you can't see a horizon, tilt your chair back, shut your eyes, and hope for sleep. (If you're on a ship and awake, don't go below deck, where your ears sense even more movement but your eyes see nothing but fixed walls.)
Ã¢—Âº Some experts argue that the ear-eye theory is off, and that motion sickness is your body's defense against being moved without your control (in other words, you're surging forward, but not by your own two feet). In either case, women are more likely to get sick than men, so it's best to be prepared.
Ã¢—Âº If you're traveling by car, try taking the wheel. Driving lends you more control and may provide your eyes with more clues that you're actually moving. Roll down the windows--fresh air can help abate nausea.
Ã¢—Âº Taken preventively, prescription or OTC motion-sickness meds, which waylay those wonky nerve signals, can offer relief. Some people swear by acupressure wrist bands, though they've never been scientifically proven. And though experts don't know why, solid forms of ginger (think ginger candies, not ginger ale) may help settle the stomach. If nothing works, you can expect to feel better a few minutes after you've reached your destination.
Sources: Thomas A. Stoffregen, Ph.D., University of Minnesota; James Locke, Ph.D., Johnson Space Center; Peter Roland, M.D., The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas