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Vertigo and Motion Sickness: The Surprising Causes Behind These Conditions

written by Dr. Christine Bishara - Jun 24, 2024
medically reviewed by Dr. Christine Bishara, MD - May 29, 2024

Photo Credit: by, Karolina Grabowska
Photo Credit: by, Karolina Grabowska

Have you ever felt like the room was spinning, even though you were standing still?

Or maybe you've experienced a queasy, unsettling feeling when on a boat or riding as a passenger in a car, if so, you're not alone. Vertigo and motion sickness are incredibly common experiences, but they're often misunderstood or confused with one another. In this article, we will look at the causes of these dizzying sensations, and unravel the key differences between them.

We’ll also discuss some helpful tips and remedies to help you keep balanced and enjoy life's adventures without feeling like you’re on a merry-go-round.


Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) is a condition where you experience sudden, intense, spinning sensations when you move your head in certain positions. It is the most common type of vertigo and is usually caused by head trauma or prolonged stretching of the head and neck, such as when lying in a dentist’s chair or getting hair washed at the salon. It can also be precipitated by recent upper respiratory infections or high intensity workouts.

These activities are believed to trigger a loosening of calcium crystals in a sensory part of the ear, which then affects balance.

● The loosened crystals flow freely in the inner ear canal and affect balance sensors present in the ear, making your brain think you're spinning when you're not.

● Vertigo attacks are worsened by specific head movements, like rolling over in bed or looking up.

● The condition is usually temporary, although it can persist in some cases. While it is harmless, the vertigo can be a nuisance and cause nausea and vomiting in severe cases.

● BPPV is more common as you get older, but it can happen at any age.

What is Motion Sickness?

Motion sickness is that queasy, dizzy feeling you get when you’re on a boat or in a car and your eye and ear senses don't match up with the motion you're experiencing. It's your brain’s way of saying, "Hey, something's not right here!"

● Motion sickness is caused by mixed signals between your eyes, inner ears, and other senses.

● Common triggers include riding in cars, boats or amusement park rides.

● Symptoms can include dizziness, sweating, and even nausea and vomiting.

● The condition is also not dangerous, but it can be super unpleasant.

● Some people are more prone to motion sickness than others( children, pregnant females and those suffering from migraines), but it can happen to anyone.

While BPPV is triggered by head movements and motion sickness is caused by conflicting signals between the eyes and the ears, both can produce uncomfortable dizzying sensations. There are some things that you can do to minimize these symptoms.

Natural Remedies for BPPV:

Since BPPV is caused by calcium crystals that have become dislodged from their normal position in the inner ear, some natural remedies that may help with BPPV include certain head movements maneuvers to help reposition the crystals:

Epley maneuver - here’s a video demonstration of the procedure. Epley Maneuver to Treat BPPV Vertigo

Staying hydrated while drinking adequate amounts of water can help as does avoiding rapid head movements. Ten tips to help with vertigo

Natural Remedies for Motion Sickness:

Some natural remedies that may help with motion sickness include:

Focus on the road: If you’re prone to motion sickness while riding as a passenger in a moving vehicle, try looking straight ahead, so your eyes see where you’re going and the mismatch between your ears is less likely. Individuals find that riding in the passenger front seat or the middle seat of the second row can allow them to better focus on the road.

Ginger is a traditional remedy for nausea and vomiting, and some studies show it may help with motion sickness.

Peppermint may help with nausea symptoms. Inhaling peppermint oil can help.

Acupressure - Stimulating an acupressure point along your wrist called the Nei Guan is a potential remedy worth a try.

Nei Guan Technique:

1. Position your hand with fingers pointing up and palm facing you.

2. Place the first 3 fingers of your other hand across your wrist, just below the wrist crease where your wrist bends.

3. Place your thumb just below your index finger. Remove the 3 fingers but keep your thumb on that spot.

4. You should feel 2 large tendons in between where your thumb is placed. This area between the tendons is the Nei Guan (P6) point.

5. Press down on this point with your thumb in a circular motion, applying firm but gentle pressure. You can move your thumb clockwise or counterclockwise.

6. Massage the point for 2-3 minutes.

7. Repeat the process on your other wrist.

8. You can perform this acupressure technique a few times per day until symptoms improve.

Acupressure for nausea and vomiting

Motion sickness remedies

Prescription Medications:

If you’ve tried all the natural remedies and your condition persists, you may need to visit your doctor for a prescription. Medications have been shown to decrease the duration and severity of BPPV.

The most common medications used for vertigo include:

1. Antihistamines:

Dimenhydrinate (Gravol)

Meclizine (Antivert)

2. Promethazine

Promethazine (Phenergan)

Promethazine (Histantil)

3. Anticholinergics such as the Scopolamine patch can also be worn when traveling on a boat or cruise ship.

While motion sickness and vertigo can be unpleasant and disruptive, there are solutions available. By understanding the causes and triggers, you can take proactive steps to prevent and manage symptoms. Simple remedies like the Epley maneuver, staying hydrated, and using certain medications can provide relief. If symptoms persist, don't hesitate to consult a healthcare professional.



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