Is motion sickness really an illness?

Strictly speaking, motion sickness is not an illness.

Motion sickness is a normal response of the body to accelerations (accelerations are changes in speed, direction of movement or both) that are different in type, intensity, and/or duration from those usually experienced. For example, if a person has never ridden on a rollercoaster, he may experience a sudden bout of dizziness, nausea and even vomiting on his first ride.  Or a person may feel perfectly fine sailing in relatively calm waters, but as soon as it becomes rough, he feels quite ill.  There are many more situations that can trigger motion sickness.  All modes of ground, air, sea and space transportation, in fact, can cause motion sickness, even amusement park rides and video games.  Some sensitive individuals can experience symptoms from the visual effects of just walking down the isles of a super market.

We each have our own tolerance level to accelerations, depending upon our genetic make-up and the exposure we have had in the past to certain motions. As mentioned before, any normal, healthy person can become motion sick depending on the type, intensity, and duration of any particular motion he is experiencing.  And the probability of becoming ill may be increased if other factors are present such as higher ambient temperatures, increased humidity, unpleasant odors, spatial confines, and preconceived thoughts about the exposure itself. We are all at risk of becoming motion sick. It has been reported that the only people who cannot become motion sick are those that have defective acceleration sensors in the ears or those whose nerve pathways from these sensors to the brain are damaged.

The human brain is like a super computer that is supplied with information from a multitude of sensors in the body.  The eyes, for instance, provide a visual representation of our orientation and activity in our surroundings. The sensors in the inner ear send acceleration messages regarding our movements and the position of our body in regard to our environment. There are other position sensors in the muscles and joints, as well as, pressure sensors in the skin. These sensors and many others continuously provide information to the brain to keep it informed about our position and movements relative to our surroundings. If the combined sensory input is highly unusual, conflicting, or overwhelming, our computer, the brain, responds with the symptoms of motion sickness, in the same way a super computer might freeze, shut down or perform unusual and often bizarre actions.

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