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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.
Common 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.
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.
- Although airsickness is uncommon among experienced pilots, it does occur with some frequency in student pilots.
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Travelers who are susceptible to motion sickness can minimize symptoms by:
- Choosing a window seat with a view of the ground or of lower clouds, such that motion can be detected. This will not work if the plane is flown in the clouds for a long duration.
- Choosing seats with the smoothest ride in regards to pitch (the seats over the wings in an airplane). (This may not be sufficient for sensitive individuals who need to see ground movement)
- 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.
Medications that may alleviate the symptoms of airsickness include:
- meclozine (Antivert, Bonine)
- dimenhydrinate (Dramamine)
- diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
- scopolamine (available in both patch and oral form).
Pilots who are susceptible to airsickness should not take anti-motion sickness medications (prescription or over-the-counter). These medications can make one drowsy or affect brain functions in other ways.
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).
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- Antunano, Melchor J., M.D. Medical Facts for Pilots (pdf) Federal Aviation Administration, Civil Aerospace Medical Institute. Publication: AM-400-03/1.
- Hain, Timothy C., M.D. (2006) Motion Sickness.
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- Spinks AB, Wasiak J, Villanueva EV, Bernath V (2007). Wasiak J, ed. "Scopolamine (hyoscine) for preventing and treating motion sickness". Cochrane Database Syst Rev (3): CD002851. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD002851.pub3. PMID 17636710.
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- Brainard A, Gresham C (2014). "Prevention and treatment of motion sickness". Am Fam Physician 90 (1): 41–6. PMID 25077501.