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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

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Airsickness is a sensation which is induced by air travel. It is a specific form of motion sickness, and is considered a normal response in healthy individuals. Airsickness occurs when the central nervous system receives conflicting messages from the body (including the inner ear, eyes and muscles) affecting balance and equilibrium.

The inner ear is particularly important in the maintenance of balance and equilibrium because it contains sensors for both angular (rotational) and linear motion. Airsickness is usually a combination of spatial disorientation, nausea and vomiting.[1] Experimentally, airsickness can be eliminated in monkeys by removing part of the cerebellum, namely the nodulus of the vermis.[2]

Signs & Symptoms

Common signs and symptoms of airsickness include:

Nausea, vomiting, vertigo, loss of appetite, cold sweating, skin pallor, difficulty concentrating, confusion, drowsiness, headache, and increased fatigue. Severe airsickness may cause a person to become completely incapacitated.[1]

Susceptibility to Airsickness

The following factors increase some people's susceptibility to airsickness:

  • Fatigue, stress, and anxiety, are some factors that can increase susceptibility to motion sickness of any type.
  • The use of alcohol, drugs, and medications may also contribute to airsickness.
  • Additionally, airsickness is more common in women (especially during menstruation or pregnancy), young children, and individuals prone to other types of motion sickness.[3]
  • Although airsickness is uncommon among experienced pilots, it does occur with some frequency in student pilots.[1]

Avoiding Airsickness

Travelers who are susceptible to motion sickness can minimize symptoms by:

  • Choosing seats with the smoothest ride (the seats over the wings in an airplane).
  • Sitting facing forward while focusing on distant objects rather than trying to read or look at something inside the airplane.
  • Eating dry crackers, olives or suck on a lemon, to dry out the mouth, lessening nausea.
  • Drinking a carbonated beverage.

Treatment of Airsickness


Medications that may alleviate the symptoms of airsickness include:

Pilots who are susceptible to airsickness should not take anti-motion sickness medications (prescription or over-the-counter).[1] These medications can make one drowsy or affect brain functions in other ways.

NonPharmacologic Remedies

A method to increase pilot resistance to airsickness consists of repetitive exposure to the flying conditions that initially resulted in airsickness. In other words, repeated exposure to the flight environment decreases an individual’s susceptibility to subsequent airsickness. Recently, several devices have been introduced that are intended to reduce motion sickness through stimulation of various body parts (usually the wrist). There is no clinical evidence of the effectiveness of these products, marketed under the names “Sea Bands", "Relief Band", and others.

Natural Remedies

There are numerous alternative remedies for motion sickness. The most popular are ginger derivatives, such as ginger tea or powdered ginger capsules. When the hosts of the popular American television program Mythbusters tested motion sickness remedies, they found that ginger was one of the most effective non-prescription remedies.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Antunano, Melchor J., M.D. Medical Facts for Pilots (pdf) Federal Aviation Administration, Civil Aerospace Medical Institute. Publication: AM-400-03/1.
  2. Lackner, James R. Motion sickness (pdf).
  3. Hain, Timothy C., M.D. (2006) Motion Sickness.
  4. Ernst, E. (2000). "Efficacy of ginger for nausea and vomiting: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials" (PDF). British Journal of Anaesthesia. 84 (3): 367–371. Retrieved 2006-09-06. Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (help)

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