Carsickness from reading

I read the explanation of people getting carsick, and it makes sense, but what is the deal with carsickness being connected with reading?

The only times I have EVER gotten carsick have been while I was reading in the car. Although I never got carsick to the point of vomiting, I sure felt like I was gonna. I would generally feel pretty miserable until I got out of the car.

Am I just weird or has anyone else had this experience. And why does it happen?

Here’s the link to the original Mailbag item: … please click on this to read the original article before responding to this comment. Saves us all time and effort if people read the article before making comments.

Fatal, it happens to me, too, when I read in a car or train, only I get headaches rather than nauseated. I presume it’s what Hawk said in the article – my eyes, looking at the book, are sending my brain a signal that all is stable, while the rest of my body knows better. But that’s just my wild-ass guess. Could also be that the words in the book, being in motion, are shaking, causing … I dunno.

Roller coasters have never bothered me, but reading in a moving car has. A long time ago a fellow traveler on an offshore fishing trip gave me some advice regarding motion sickness. He told me to stay on deck where I could see the horizon. That seems to work and makes sense in light of the eye and ear sensory input explanantion of motion sickness given in the column. On the roller coaster I’m seeing the outside world, i.e., both my eyes and my ears are giving me input to the effect that I’m in (serious) motion. While reading in a car I’m not getting that input from my eyes, or it is not synched with what my ears (and, I suspect, to some smaller degree, my other senses) are telling me.

Being deaf I don’t think eyes and ear sync has much to do with it.

At any rate, one can close their eyes.


"Dizziness, vertigo and motion sickness all relate to the sense of balance and equilibrium. Researchers in space and aeronautical medicine call this sense spatial orientation, because it tells the brain where the body is “in space”: what direction it is pointing, what direction it is moving, and if it is turning or standing still. Your sense of balance is maintained by a complex interaction of the following parts of the nervous system:

  1. The inner ears (also called the labyrinth), which monitor the directions of motion, such as turning or forward-backward, side-to-side, and up-and-down motions.

  2. The eyes, which monitor where the body is in space (i.e., upside down, rightside up, etc.) and also directions of motion.

  3. The skin pressure receptors such as in the feet and seat, which tell what part of the body is down and touching the ground.

  4. The muscle and joint sensory receptors, which tell what parts of the body are moving.

  5. The central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), which processes all the bits of information from the four other systems to make some coordinated sense out of it all.
    The symptoms of motion sickness and dizziness appear when the central nervous system receives conflicting messages from the other four systems. For example, suppose you are riding in an airplane during a storm, and your airplane is being tossed about by air turbulence. But your eyes do not detect all this motion because all you see is the inside of the airplane. Then your brain receives messages that do not match up right with each other. You might become “air sick.” Or suppose you are sitting in the back seat of a moving car reading a book. Your inner ears and skin receptors will detect the motion of your travel, but your eyes see only the pages of your book. You could become “car sick.” Or, to use a true medical condition as an example, suppose you suffer inner ear damage on only one side from a head injury or an infection. The damaged inner ear does not send the same signals as the healthy ear. This gives conflicting signals to the brain about the sensation of rotation, and you could suffer a sense of spinning or vertigo, as well as nausea."

Handy, it’s not the “hearing” part of the ear that’s involved but the “balance/equilibrium” part.

And yes, closing one’s eyes does often help with motion sickness.

All of which can go right out the window (heh) in extreme cases of vertigo. Any IFR-rated pilot knows complete spatial disorientation can occur any time they are flying without visual references. Pilots are taught “under the hood” to distrust what their bodies are telling them and rely exclusively on the instruments for reference.

I suspect the same thing is going on while reading in the car - your body gets lost in space slightly and your lunch no longer knows which way is up.

Better to roll down the window and make like a doggie on a joyride than to come out of a cumulus at 1500 feet inverted in a power dive.

If you get motion sickness while reading in a car, do you read with the book in your lap? I can’t read with a book in my lap, but do OK if I hold it in front of me. For me, the issue doesn’t seem to be the usual explanation about conflicting signals to the brain, but rather something to do with my balance apparatus being in the wrong orientation to the motion.

JAB, when you hold what you’re reading in front of you, is it high enough that you could be getting motion information from your peripheral vision?

I get the same peripheral information, although it does go zooming by in a different direction. But I get the same effect with my eyes closed, so I think it is more of a balance/inertial effect in my case.

Is It Static Electricity?

When I get travel sick, I sit on a newspaper
and it seens to work. I was told static electricity adds to the Balance Theory…
… could you generate static from turning the pages?

would you get travelsick using a laptop?

So we know it is an inner ear conflicting info thing, but why do some people not get motion sickness when others do “just looking” at a moving vehicle? Why does it not effect all people equally?

I’ve never been in danger of losing a meal due to motion sickness. In fact, I often read (aloud to my wife, who’s driving) in a moving car with no problem at all.

Strangely, however, I’ve found that, if I attempt this on an empty stomach, I do get a little queasy. (This is more noticeable in stop-and-go street traffic, less so during a smooth ride on the freeway.) So for me, the best way to avoid motion sickness is to eat something before reading in the car.

And then there’s motion sickness based on the visual illusion of motion. I’m especially thinking about the reports of people leaving Blair Witch Project due to queasy stomachs. BWP was filmed with handheld cameras, which causes what you see on screen to move about in a herky-jerky fashion. This happened to me when I saw Breaking the Waves (the movie Emily Watson did before Hilary and Jackie), which was also filmed with handheld cameras.

When i am in a car and reading, i do get slightly carsick. So, i try to watch the scenery and that helps. When i went out to sea for a class trip (This was a largeish science vessel where you could feel it drop and rise upon the swells :)), i got seasick. People told me to look at the horizon but that didnt help. What did help me was to sit down on the deck and keep my eyes on it. It made me feel much better. Also, after i ate lunch i didnt feel any seasickness.

I have a good friend who used to get so carsick from reading, she couldn’t even look at a map. (This is not an ad for this product, just telling it like it is). She tried something called “No Qweeze”, an herbal medicine, and she was able to read and study on a 12 hour car trip we took. She says it is a Godsend.

An optimist sees an opportunity in every calamity; A pessimist sees a calamity in every opportunity.

I have Mennier’s Disease, which is a balance disorder, and one of the first signs I get that I’ll be getting a flair up is that I can’t read anything anywhere without getting motion sickness.

Because the eyes move back and forth but your brain isn’t receiving the signals from the ear.

You actually, BTW, have three types of motions problems back and forth, side to side and right to left.(the last implies holding your head steady and turning it while side to side means moving the neck as a whole.

As a boy, I had a friend who suffered from car sickness. His dad subscribed to the static electricity theory and installed two straps (I can’t remember if they were leather or rubber) to the back of his bumper to counter the effects on his child. My friend said it worked and I began to notice many cars driving around in the same condition. My gut tells me the connection is spurious but the anecdotal evidence disagrees.

Take it or leave it.