Does wearing headphones reduce motion sickness?

February 15, 2024 | 05:00 pm PT
I suffer from motion sickness, so I have to take anti-nausea medicines every time I travel. Does wearing headphones help reduce motion sickness? (Hoang Thanh, Vinh Long)


It is estimated that one in every three people experiences motion sickness - whether it is on a boat, car, or airplane - to varying degrees depending on the circumstances. Women and children aged between 5 and 12 are more prone to this condition.

When traveling by boat, car, or airplane, the body’s motion-sensing components, including the ears, eyes, muscles, and joints, send conflicting information to the brain. This confusion makes the brain unsure whether the body is moving or staying still, leading to symptoms such as cold sweats, dizziness, fatigue, headaches, nausea, vomiting, increased breathing rate, lack of concentration, and increased salivation. Some people with severe motion sickness may experience frequent vomiting and continuous nausea, which can lead to dehydration and low blood pressure.

When listening to music, the brain focuses on perceiving the melody of the song. Listening to music can stimulate the body to produce various hormones, such as endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin, which contribute to mood improvement and may reduce the intensity of motion sickness symptoms, such as nausea and headaches.

A woman wearing earphones while sitting in a car. Illustration photo by Freepik

A woman wearing earphones while sitting in a car. Illustration photo by Freepik

You can choose relaxing instrumental music with a slow tempo and repetitive melodies, or white noise sounds like the sounds of rain, tapping, ocean waves, or rustling to enhance the effectiveness of mental relaxation and stress relief.

However, during long-distance journeys, continuous use of headphones should be avoided as it can increase the risk of ear infections, decrease hearing ability, and lead to tinnitus. It is advised to keep the volume at a low or moderate level to ensure you can hear and receive notifications from the transportation operator throughout the journey.

It is also advisable to limit the use of headphones while looking at your phones, especially when the vehicle is in motion, to decrease the likelihood of experiencing headaches. If you are driving, it is absolutely crucial not to use headphones because it can lead to distractions and incomplete focus while operating a vehicle, increasing the risk of accidents.

Therapeutic aromas from ginger, peppermint, orange peel, or lime can also help alleviate headaches and motion sickness symptoms.

Choosing a well-ventilated seat near a window is also recommended, as it allows for comfortable breathing and more effective mind relaxation.

Dr. Tran Thi Thuy Hang

Head of the Ear, Nose, and Throat Department, Tam Anh General Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City

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