A cure for travel sickness?

4th May 2014

A Norfolk farmer has invented a pair of sunglasses that may help combat travel sickness. Tim Flaxman, himself a lifelong sufferer from travel sickness, found that covering one eye helped his sickness abate, so he invented glasses that restrict the wearer’s view of movement in a similar way. Mr Flaxman said of his invention “These glasses would open up the world to so many people that, even if I don’t make money, that would be a great legacy.”

Travel is such a pleasurable experience for so many people but can be a misery for those who suffer from travel sickness. The nausea is caused by a conflict between what the eyes see and what the inner ear (vestibular) systems senses. For example, sitting in a moving car, the inner ear senses movement whilst the eyes see the interior of the car not moving. Scientists are still debating the evolutionary origins of travel sickness and whether it is an adaptive response or an unfortunate consequence of our neuroarchitecture.*

Whatever the evolutionary causes of motion sickness, the close linking of our visual and inner ear senses indicate the fundamental importance of motion and travel within our evolution. Indeed, other research has found that our bipedal form of motion may be linked with the development of human cognition and sociality. Issues like this are explored in the ITC’s Why Travel? project, which uses insights from a range of disciplines – from biology and anthropology to literature and philosophy – to better understand human travel. For more information see www.whytravel.org

* Oman, C. M. (2012) Are evolutionary hypotheses for motion sickness "just-so" stories? Journal of Vestibular Research. 1;22(2):117-27.