I spent the last month visiting family in England. I love England. Yummy food, beautiful scenery, good people. England’s great.
Well, almost great. It does have one problem: Curvy, windy, endless, spinny, twisty country roads.
English country roads: Evil disguised as asphalt.
Excuse me while I puke.
It was while I was sitting in the backseat of the car, trying to keep my insides on my inside, that I started to wonder what is actually happening, brain-wise, during carsickness. When I was a kid, my parents told me that carsickness happened “because your eyes say you’re moving but your muscles say you’re not, so your brain gets confused.” But is this really the reason? And what, exactly, does “your brain gets confused” mean, and why does a confused brain mean a puking stomach?
TO THE INTERWEBS!
Once I was out of the car, minus one nauseous stomach and plus one internet-connected computer, I started to look up the answers to my questions. This is what I found out:
My brain was confused...sort of.
So, apparently, were my parents.
Here’s what happening: You’re eyes think you’re NOT MOVING. This is because the eyes see (mostly) the inside of the car, which is stationary. But your vestibular system says you ARE MOVING.
You might be thinking, “What’s the vestibular system?” It’s a small organ inside your ear that senses balance. It’s basically a tiny tank of gelatinous fluid that sloshes around as you move. Take a cup of water and start tilting it (but not so much that it spills). See how the water angles? When the fluid in your vestibular system angles like that, your brain knows your head or body is tilted. That’s how you sense balance.
The vestibular system is also responsible for dizziness. Here’s a fun and simple activity: start spinning. Spin around and around as fast and you can. Now stop! You should be nice and dizzy. This is because your vestibular system is like a very slow internet connection that takes forever to update. After you stop spinning, the fluid in your ears keeps spinning, which tells your brain that you’re spinning, which leads to dizziness. The same thing happens in a moving car. The fluid in your vestibular system sloshes all over the place as the car whips around curves and bends, telling your brain that you’re moving, even though your eyes say you’re not moving.
So what’s the brain to do with this contradictory information?
There’s one more thing you need to know: The brain is a hypochondriac. Its first priority, always, is to keep you alive, and sometimes it gets a little overprotective. So when your eyes say one thing and your sense of balance says another, your overprotective brain comes to what it thinks it the most obvious conclusion:
You’re being poisoned!
Yeah, that’s right. Poisoned. Under normal circumstances, your senses should never be telling the brain completely opposite things (i.e. moving/not moving). When they do, it’s so wrong, so out of the ordinary and weird, that your brain assumes one of them is hallucinating. You’ve swallowed a poison. It’s making you hallucinate. It’s also trying to kill you.
And what’s the best way to get rid of poison (without going to a hospital)? Yeah. You got it. Puke. Insert disgusting sound effects here.
Fun times, huh?
So how do you avoid getting carsick? To answer that question, keep in mind that the reason you’re sick is that your eyes say you’re not moving but your vestibular system says you are. You can’t do anything about the moving car or the windy roads, but you can do something about what you’re seeing. The solution to the problem is to see as much moving stuff as possible.
Sit in the front if you can. More windows.
Don’t read! (I know, this is a hard one to follow for long car journeys, but take it from a lifelong carsickness sufferer, it’s worth it.)
There’re also anti-nausea medication you can take, but you should always talk to your parents before trying this.
These steps don’t always work, particularly on English country roads, but they’re worth a try! Good luck, and I wish you vomit-free journeys.