What to Do If You Get Motion Sickness While Riding Metro

Photograph by RJ Schmidt via Flickr.

Motion sickness—especially when you’re trapped in an underground Metro train—is no fun. While simply whipping through the tunnels might be enough to make you feel nauseous, the addition of any jerky stops and starts going through the tunnels don’t help either.

According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, motion sickness is felt when the inner ear, eyes, and the pressure receptors in your spine, muscles, and joints are all sending different signals to the central nervous system. How sensitive you are to motion sickness changes person to person, but if you frequently feel motion sickness, you can improve with time.

Dr. V. Patrick Mahat, a DC otolaryngologist, used the example of fighter pilots, who with training can become less susceptible to experiencing motion sickness. According to Mahat, the three qualifiers that determine how motion sickness will affect you are experience, training, and your genetics.

If you’re one of the unlucky ones that’s more prone to feeling nauseated while riding Metro, here’s some things to try:

Don’t read.

This one should be obvious—it’s one of the first things someone will tell you if you’re feeling car sick. According to Mahat, studying something up close can aid motion sickness because as the eye moves more rapidly, you’re messing with the equilibrium between your inner ear and eyes.

Look as far forward through the train as you can.

While most advice would recommend you stare at the horizon, that’s not possible when you’re in a dark, underground tunnel. Instead of staring out the window, Mahat recommends finding a fixed point as far up through the train as you can see. The farther away it is, the less it will appear to be moving, explains McKenzie, and if you’re body feels stationary in the seat, keeping your eyes on seemingly stationary objects will help to decrease the conflicting messages you’re sending your body. 

Sit in a forward-facing seat.

Seeing as motion sickness is caused by mixed signals being sent to your central nervous system, Dr. Bryan McKenzie, an otologist with Otolaryngology Associates, P.C., says that sitting facing forward might help to diminish the conflicting signals. Sitting backwards while the world whips past backwards can further stimulate your vision field, McKenzie explains, which won’t help your motion sickness.

Don’t sit in the last car.

While the entire train will be moving and swaying to some extent, the fact that the last car is only tethered on one end may mean more movement, explains McKenzie, so sitting there could worsen your motion sickness. McKenzie recommends instead picking a less-crowded car that isn’t all the way at the tail end of the train.

Get treatment.

If it’s a one-time trip and you know you’re prone to be greatly affected motion sickness, Mahat recommends taking an over-the-counter medication like Dramamine, which can be used to stop the feelings of nausea and dizziness. But if riding Metro is part of your daily commute and motion sickness is ruining the experience, McKenzie suggests seeking out vestibular rehabilitation, through which you can work to decrease your sensitivity to motion sickness.

Get off the train.

If you can, obviously the best option is to get off the train onto solid ground as soon as possible. Mahat says that the feelings of motion sickness should evaporate a half an hour to an hour after you’ve stopped moving. The American Academy of Otolaryngology recommends contacting your doctor if you experience a dizziness you’ve never felt before or if you’re continuously vomiting, but normal motion sickness should be self-treatable.

Associate Editor

Caroline Cunningham joined Washingtonian in 2014 after moving to the DC area from Cincinnati, where she interned and freelanced for Cincinnati Magazine and worked in content marketing. She currently resides in College Park.