Here’s Why You Get Carsick As An Adult, Even If You Never Did As A Kid

by Carolyn de Lorenzo
Flamingo Images/Shutterstock

There’s nothing like a good road trip. Snacks, music, great company, and maybe a dog or two, all cruising along together — love it. But a good road trip can easily turn south if you get carsick. This is doubly frustrating if you were always the kid reading Harry Potter in the backseat growing up, but now you can barely scroll through Instagram in the back of a Lyft. What gives? Turns out that getting carsick as an adult is a real thing that can happen, but just like dealing with any kind of motion sickness, you can figure out how to manage it before you have to drive three hours to your partner's parents house.

Why is carsickness a thing at all, anyway? “Motion sickness is often caused by a disconnect between all the messages going into the brain,” Dr. Randi Hutter Epstein, MD, medical writer, Yale lecturer, and author of Aroused: The History of Hormones and How They Control Just About Everything tells Bustle via email. “So if we are focusing on a book, our brains need to be taking in the images of the words at one velocity (still), but we may also have the trees and outside cars speeding by. Our brains are also taking in that message too. That confuses the sensory input.”

“Your brain senses movement by getting signals from your inner ears, eyes, muscles, and joints. When it gets signals that do not match, you can get motion sickness,” writes Medlineplus. If you think car trips are about as much fun as a poke in the eye because they make you feel awful, you’re not alone. While motion sickness doesn’t happen to everyone, it’s a pretty common problem and anyone can experience it at some point. Motion sickness can happen if you’re traveling by plane, car, or train, and is most common in children and pregnant women. You might also be more prone to carsickness if you’re taking certain medications, Medlineplus notes.

“As we get older, we are better at controlling the input to the brain. Many of us stop reading in cars, and realize that we have to just focus on the outside stimulus” to avoid getting sick, Dr. Hutter Epstein says. Checking your phone, according to Dr. Hutter Epstein, can create the same nauseating effect while on the road.

If you’re someone who works at a computer a lot, eye strain and vision changes might also contribute to motion sickness, Dr. Hutter Epstein says. As you get older, “Your eyes aren’t what they used to be, so you need more effort focusing on the page or on the phone screen. If you’re a passenger in a car, your brain is trying to focus on the message on your phone while your it’s also absorbing the fast-motion of the external environment. That’s bound to make many of us headachy.”

“Adults who have had an experience with vertigo, which is sometimes caused by a virus rattling the little crystals in the inner ear, may be more susceptible to motion sickness in cars from some lingering effects of the vertigo,” Dr. Hutter Epstein says.

Hormonal changes can also contribute to motion sickness, Dr. Hutter Epstein says. “As our hormonal balance changes, we may be more susceptible to things that we hadn’t been before, such as motion sickness.”

Verywell Health also notes that shifts in estrogen can make you feel pukey on the road, which is why women are more likely to get carsick than men are. Whether you’ve got inner ear issues, hormonal changes, or eye strain from your phone, their are some things you can do to help prevent motion sickness, says Trip Savvy: Putting down your book or phone while you’re in the car, eating a meal before travel, and even taking a nap on route, can help lessen your queasiness while in transit. You can also try sipping on some club soda, or popping some ginger or peppermint pills to help soothe your stomach. Drive safe, friends.