Transcranial Stimulation May Help Relieve, Prevent Motion Sickness

motion sickness
motion sickness
Cathodal tDCS treatment prevented the onset of nausea longer than anodal tDCS.

Motion sickness is a common, unpleasant effect likely experienced by most of the population at one point or another, however, for the 30% of people who experience severe sensitivity to motion, the nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and cold sweats can be unbearable.

While there are several over-the-counter treatments available for motion sickness, all of them are only partially effective and the majority of them have an ill effect on cognitive function, making their use an occupational hazard.

However, new technology developed by researchers from Imperial College London in the United Kingdom may benefit those suffering from motion sickness without the side effects of pharmacological treatments.

In the small study, researchers used two types of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) on 20 age- and sex-matched participants who were seated in a rotating and tilting electronic chair. tDCS, either anodal or cathodal, was administered for approximately 15 minutes prior to a follow-up off-vertical axis rotation (OVAR) session in the moving chair over the left parietal cortex, with stimulation continuing for another 15 minutes during rotation or until participants reported moderate nausea.

Analysis showed that those who underwent cathodal tDCS had a significantly increased OVAR duration compared to those who underwent anodal tDCS. Those who underwent left cathodal tDCS took 207 seconds longer to develop moderate nausea during OVAR, while those who underwent anodal tDCS developed moderate nausea 57 seconds sooner. Recovery time following cathodal tDCS was also significantly reduced. Participants with lower motion sickness questionnaire scores (MSB scores) showed the greatest benefit from cathodal tDCS, with no side effects reported.

“We are really excited about the potential of this new treatment to provide an effective measure to prevent motion sickness with no apparent side effects. The benefits that we saw are very close to the effects we see with the best travel sickness medications available,” said researcher Michael Gresty, PhD.

The researchers plan to work with industry partners to develop a tDCS-delivering device that could potentially be purchased as an over-the-counter remedy for motion sickness.

“We are confident that within five to ten years people will be able to walk into the chemist and buy an anti-seasickness device. It may be something like a tens machine that is used for back pain,” said researcher Qadeer Arshad, PhD. “We hope it might even integrate with a mobile phone, which would be able to deliver the small amount of electricity required via the headphone jack. In either case, you would temporarily attach small electrodes to your scalp before travelling,” to both prevent and relieve motion sickness.


  1. Arshad Q et al. Neurology. 2015; doi:10.1212/WNL.0000000000001989.