Why your car sickness is so much worse after lockdown

If you’re experiencing a sudden increase in car sickness post-lockdown, you’re not imagining it.

The return to semi-normality post-lockdown has been tough for many reasons, but there’s one rubbish side effect we weren’t prepared for: feeling like we’re going to throw up five minutes into every car journey.

This is a very real effect of having been cooped up indoors for months, and now, as we jump back on public transport and start making car journeys again, loads of us are dealing with fresh bouts of motion sickness that are more intense and quicker to develop.

But why? Is it the face masks, with all the stale breath we’re inhaling? Is it the anxiety of going back into the outside world? Or does car sickness really get worse if you just don’t travel for a few months?

Jana Abelovska, medical advisor and clinician at Click Pharmacy, says it’s absolutely the case that our time without car journeys in lockdown will mean we’re hit by far worse motion sickness now.

‘Car sickness is most likely to worsen post lockdown because over lockdown most people were not driving their cars as much or even at all, or being passengers whether that be in a car, taxi or on a public bus,’ Jana tells Metro.co.uk.

‘A person going from travelling every day to work to suddenly not being in a car or other vehicle at all may find that when they get back in a car they feel more car sick due to their bodies responses to travel and adapting back to how it feels and the motions of being in a car.

‘If a person hasn’t travelled in a while it is quite common for them to feel more sick than usual.’

Basically, our bodies have forgotten what it’s like to be in a car, and so they’re having a bit of a freakout – cue nausea that comes on more quickly than before and lasts longer after you get out of the car.

You might now notice motion sickness when you’re on the bus, when you didn’t before, or you might experience car sickness for even quick taxi rides, whereas before you only felt awful after long cross-country journeys.

Everyone’s different, though, so while you’re curled up in a ball post-Uber, your friend might be totally unbothered.

Car sickness only affects around a third of the population, is more common in women and children than men, and you can either ‘grow out’ of motion sickness or have it worsen as you age, so there are lots of factors at play.

Interestingly, Asian people are more likely to experience car sickness, as well as those who have a history of migraines.

Jana explains: ‘Motion sickness is caused by repetitive movements whilst travelling, this can be from winding roads, bumps or even going up steep inclines and declines in the road.

‘It can also be caused by a lack of clear vision in the car, for example if a person is sitting in the back and cannot see the road ahead, the motion and lack of view may make them feel unwell.

‘The inner ear sends signals to your brain from the things that you are seeing, these messages can become confused and cause you to feel sick and unwell.’

Could face masks make car sickness worse? Not exactly – but the thought that they might could create a bit of a negative placebo effect.

If you anticipate that you’ll have awful car sickness when you get in a car, you’ll likely feel worse.

‘It is unlikely that wearing a mask has a huge impact,’ says Jana. ‘However it could contribute to the feeling of sickness because a person may feel that something being placed over their face and mouth is restrictive and could make them feel even worse, they may feel like they can’t breathe properly or get any air in through the nose or mouth, and this is imperative when you feel car sick.’

Babylon GP Dr Li agrees that you shouldn’t ditch the mask in an attempt to sort out car sickness, but that it’s your mindset around face coverings that could be partly to blame.

‘There are no current studies that tell us whether wearing a mask can have an impact on motion sickness,’ says Dr Li. ‘But empirically, wearing a mask can sometimes cause anxiety that may in turn contributes to the nauseous feeling.’

So that’s why car sickness happens and why it’s so much worse now – what can we do about it?

It’s handy to work out what triggers affect you most, whether that’s reading in the car (yes, even on your phone, that’ll make it worse too) or riding in certain types of cars, and avoiding these where you can.

Try to tackle that ‘anticipatory anxiety’ – easier said than done – and see if you can increase your car and bus journeys gradually as we come out of lockdown so it’s less of a shock to your system.

Dr Li recommends: ‘For short journeys, frequent regular exposures can help to build up a protective habituation. For longer journeys, if the motion is sustained, commuters or travellers can develop habituation and become less symptomatic.’

Then there are plenty of remedies and treatments you can try when you know you’ll need to travel by car, bus, plane, or boat.

The most obvious option, of course, is going to a pharmacy and picking up some anti car sickness tablets. There are loads available and they’re easy to find.

You can also try having some ginger before your journey (drink some ginger tea or snack on the crystalised stuff), avoiding a heavy meal pre-travel, having the windows open while in the car to get fresh air in, and sitting in the front seat rather than struggling in the back.

Dr Li’s tips for dealing with motion sickness:

  • Plan the journey, use straight roads rather than windy country roads
  • Take motion sickness medications before the journey, this might help but be aware some of them might cause drowsiness.
  • Avoid reading, using a phone or tablet to read or watch videos while travelling as they can trigger the sickness
  • For severe travel anxiety or any underlying anxiety, speak with your doctor to see if psychological treatment can help.
  • Controlled breathing, fresh air and stopping the journey helps to recover from the symptoms. Don’t forget to bring non-leak sick bags with you and a change of clothing (just in case)

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