Motion Sickness

Motion sickness is a form of dizziness with nausea and vomiting that can occur when you are a passenger in rapidly moving vehicles like cars, boats, airplanes, and spaceships. It can come on when using moving devices like swings, or riding on an amusement park ride.  Even watching certain rapidly-rotating objects like a ceiling fan can sometimes set it off.  This sickness only arises in people with functioning inner ear balance systems; people who have had both inner ears destroyed cannot experience seasickness or any of the other forms of motion sickness.  It is more prevalent and easier to trigger in people with a personal or family history of migraine. 

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Beyond Dizziness: Other symptoms of vestibular disease

Ringing in the ears, called tinnitus,  is a sign of inner ear disease.  It is normal to occasionally feel a sudden stuffiness in one ear followed by ringing that gets louder and then subsides over several seconds.  When the feeling persists for several minutes or more, it can indicate an ear problem.   The sounds heard in a diseased ear are described most commonly as a high-pitched ringing sound, but you might hear a buzzing sound, humming, or a fuzzy sound like you hear in-between stations on the radio.  Sometimes there can be a low-pitched ringing or roaring quality, like a vacuum cleaner.  There can also be clicking or clanking noises in a diseased ear. 

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Why does vertigo make me sick?

Nausea and vomiting commonly accompany vertigo.  People vary in how sensitive they are to motion.  Some vomit with even mild dizziness, and others can experience violent vertigo with only mild nausea.  If you can see the environment spinning, and it continues for more than a few minutes, nausea will usually begin to build.   Vomiting can be set off by several different bodily systems (food poisoning in the stomach and intestines, for example) and it is controlled by the brain with a very complex set of subsystems. 

The vestibular system is interconnected with the reticular formation, part of the brainstem that coordinates and controls key centers for consciousness.  This formation includes the reticular activating system, a network in the brain that helps in arousal and awakening.  It is important that a person awaken when the head is suddenly moved, because it can indicate an impending fall.  When you abruptly jerk your head upright after starting to nod off, or when someone shakes you to help wake you up, you are using this system.  

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