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Can Vision Problems Cause Motion Sickness?

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A woman riding the train with her hands on her temples, suffering from motion sickness

Motion sickness can make travelling a poor experience due to nausea, headaches, and dizziness. You wouldn’t typically visit your optometrist for motion sickness, but can this condition have a connection to your eyes? If you experience motion sickness, can an eye problem be the cause? 

Continue reading to learn more about motion sickness, including if a vision problem can cause this condition. 

What Is Motion Sickness? 

If you’ve travelled by boat or car, you may have experienced car or sea sickness. This feeling can make travelling a pain. The actual name for this condition is motion sickness. 

Motion sickness is a common disturbance of your inner ear caused by repeated motion. You may experience several symptoms when you have motion sickness, including: 

  • Drowsiness
  • Discomfort
  • Dizziness
  • Drooling
  • Headaches
  • Not feeling well
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Uneasiness
  • Yawning

While most cases of motion sickness are mild and manageable, some people may struggle to travel due to the severity of their symptoms. 

What Causes Motion Sickness? 

You sense motion through the nervous system’s different pathways within your body. These pathways include your inner ear, eyes, and body tissue. There is coordination between your inner ear, eyes, and other pathways when you intentionally move, such as walking or running. 

Motion sickness occurs when the central nervous system gets conflicting messages from your sensory systems. These systems include the inner ear, eyes, skin pressure receptors, and muscle and joint receptors. 

When you’re travelling, your ears may sense movement from the car (such as up, down, left, or right), but your eyes see a static image as if they aren’t moving. Experts believe these conflicting senses cause motion sickness

Avoiding & Preventing Motion Sickness

Motion sickness symptoms usually subside after you finish travelling, but more severe cases can last for days. One way to deal with motion sickness is to prevent symptoms from developing. 

There are several ways you can do this

  • Close your eyes: Closing your eyes can stop the conflicting messages from the eyes & inner ear. 
  • Chewing: Chewing gum or having a snack can reduce mild motion sickness. 
  • Fresh air: Opening a window can let fresh air in, slightly reducing motion sickness symptoms. 
  • Medications: Taking motion sickness-preventing medication can help before you travel. 
  • Optimal sitting: Sit so the eyes can see the same motion the body feels. Never sit backwards in a car or train, and sit by a window when possible to look outside. 
A young woman feeling dizzy due to vision problems

Can Vision Problems Cause Motion Sickness? 

While motion sickness typically occurs due to conflicting messages from the body’s senses, some vision problems can lead to motion sickness-like symptoms. These issues affect your binocular vision: how your eyes work together as a team to create a single visual image. Binocular vision issues affect the connection between the eyes and the brain. 

Convergence insufficiency and vertical heterophoria are 2 eye conditions that can lead to motion sickness.

Convergence Insufficiency 

Convergence insufficiency occurs due to poor communication between the nerves and muscles controlling the eyes. While the eye muscles are strong and healthy, the nerves controlling these muscles don’t send the proper messages to turn and view a specific object. 

When your eyes cannot work together well, they work harder to see a single image, leading to headaches, eye strain, and blurry vision. Someone with convergence insufficiency may have difficulty catching a ball, tilt their head to one side, trip or stumble on uneven surfaces, or struggle with motion sickness. 

Without proper treatment, convergence insufficiency won’t improve. 

Vertical Heterophoria  

Vertical heterophoria is a vision disorder where the eyes struggle to work together as a team. When the eyes cannot work together well, there is a misalignment between each eye’s visual field (what you can see around you when staring at a central point). Vertical heterophoria is a vertical misalignment between the eyes. 

You can have this condition from birth or a brain injury, like a concussion. Someone with vertical heterophoria may struggle with motion sickness, poor depth perception, lack of coordination, head tilting, or blurry vision. 

When you have this condition, your eye muscles are tense. You typically require treatment to relax these muscles and reduce symptoms. 

Treating These Conditions

Treatment is necessary to help improve vision and reduce symptoms if you have convergence insufficiency or vertical heterophoria. 

Treatment for convergence insufficiency can involve therapy exercises or specialized lenses called prisms. These exercises help retrain eye muscles to work together, while prisms help the eyes do the focusing work they cannot naturally do. 

Treating vertical heterophoria involves prisms to relax the eye muscles. These prisms can help reduce symptoms like headaches and dizziness

Addressing both of these conditions involves using vision therapy treatments

Vision Therapy Can Benefit Your Vision

Vision therapy helps strengthen the connection between the eyes and brain, improving visual skills and comfort. It’s an optometrist-supervised training program tailored to your vision needs. Your eye doctor can help improve your vision with in-office and at-home exercises featuring specialized lenses, prisms, filters, occluders, and other necessary treatment tools. 

Consider visiting your eye doctor if you suffer from frequent motion sickness. They can examine your eyes and determine if there’s another cause for your symptoms. 

Contact your optometrist if you’re interested in vision therapy. 

Written by Dr. Daniel Rayman

Dr. Daniel Rayman was born and raised in the Greater Toronto Area. He graduated with high distinction from the University of Toronto with a double major in human biology and zoology in 1999. Dr. Rayman then continued his education at the prestigious Illinois College of Optometry, graduating magna cum laude in 2003.
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