A common question we hear from student pilots is, "How do I overcome motion sickness while flight training?" This inspired us to write this article.

Motion sickness is a frequent issue among student pilots, often leading to nausea and general discomfort during flight lessons. It can be particularly frustrating for those determined to have a smooth training experience.

While the symptoms of motion sickness can be distressing, don't worry—it's a fixable problem. In this article, we'll share strategies that pilots in training can use to overcome "flight lesson nausea."

A man holding his ear in discomfort - PilotMall

The Ears Role in Motion Sickness

Did you know that the inner ear plays a role in balance and motion perception? This makes your inner ear a key factor when it comes to motion sickness. During flight training, the inner ear can become confused by the movement of the aircraft, leading to air sickness.

To address these challenges, we privately consulted flight instructors and experienced pilots. They recommended several different methods to help provide natural ways to treat motion sickness.

Effective Strategies to Combat Motion Sickness in Aviation Training

A White Plate with Two pieces of Toast - PilotMall

1. Eat Light Meals

One of the best strategies to combat nausea is to be careful about what you eat. You'll want to avoid flying on an empty stomach, but it is equally important to steer clear of greasy, spicy and heavy foods.

Instead, opt for a light meal before your flight, as this can help you have the energy and alertness you need for flight training, but also help to prevent motion sickness without making you feel overly full.

Mount Sinai recommends trying to eat light, easily digestible foods such as toast or crackers. Carbonated drinks such as ginger ale and non-acidic fruits, or a small portion of protein can also be ideal choices.

2. Stay Hydrated

Staying properly hydrated is important, drink plenty of water before and during your flight lessons.

Dehydration can leads to headaches and exacerbate motion sickness symptoms, so make sure you're well-hydrated by sipping small amounts of water throughout the flight training process.

A Man Looking up at the sky and breathing in fresh air - PilotMall

3. Fresh Air & Breathing Exercises

Fresh air can make a massive difference in relieving motion sickness symptoms. If it's possible(and safe to do so), open the vents to allow a flow of fresh air into the cockpit. Sometimes this small action can help to reduce your feelings of nausea and cold sweats, making the training experience much more comfortable for you.

Practicing deep breathing exercises can help manage your anxiety and maintain a calmness during your flight. Deep breathing increases oxygen flow to the brain, which can aid in stabilizing your physical state and reduce the sensation of nausea.

4. Herbal Remedies

For those who prefer natural herbal remedies, ginger tea and licorice root lozenges are popular choices among future pilots. Ginger has been shown to help with nausea, while licorice root can soothe the stomach.

5. Essential Oils

Some pilots who have successfully overcome flight nausea attribute their success to essential oils like peppermint and lavender. These oils can be used to alleviate motion sickness by applying them to the wrists or inhaling their scent.

If the scent is too strong to apply directly to the skin, placing the oil on a handkerchief or a hair scrunchie and wearing it on the wrist is a great alternative that can be easily removed after the flight.

These natural remedies are great because they are gentle on the system and free of the side effects that some medications might have.

6. Oxygen & Non-Drowsy Medications

Supplemental oxygen can be an available tool for helping to treat motion sickness, especially at higher altitudes where oxygen levels are lower.

Over-the-counter non-drowsy motional sickness relief medications and antihistamines focus on preventing the problem before it starts. These medications can help reduce symptoms without causing drowsiness, allowing you to remain alert and focused during your flight training.

Keep in mind, before taking any medications, it's always a good idea to consult with a healthcare provider first.

A Pilot and Instructor Flying Together in the Sky - PilotMall

7. Repetition Increases Your Tolerance

Flight instructors often recommend that student pilots gradually increase their flight time to build tolerance to the discomfort that flight training maneuvers, such as practicing power-on and power-off stalls, can cause. Starting with shorter flights and progressively extending the duration can help the body adjust to the sensations of flying.

Seasoned pilots stress the importance of persistence, often saying you should "eat, sleep, and drink aviation." They know that many pilots conquer motion sickness through repeated exposure. This gradual acclimation bit-by-bit helps the brain and body adjust to the unique environment of flight, making motion sickness less likely over time.

8. Focus on the Horizon

Another helpful tip is to focus on the horizon when you're flying. Having a visual reference can help stabilize your perception of movement and reduce the disorienting effects that contribute to motion sickness.

9. Keep Occupied

Keep your mind occupied with tasks and actively engaging in the flight training process in order to divert your attention away from any discomfort you might be feeling. For instance, try talking out loud about every action you're doing as you're doing it. Not only will this help to offer a distraction, but it let's your flight instructor know what you remember or have been paying attention to.

Taking an active role in piloting or keeping engaged with navigation tasks can make the flight experience more engaging and leave less room to dwell on uncomfortable sensations.

A Student Pilot Communicating With Their Flight Instructor - PilotMall

10. Communicate With Your Instructor

Be open and honest about how you're feeling at all times, remember to always follow the IMSAFE acronym. In some cases, anxiety can exacerbate motion sickness symptoms. Communicating and addressing any underlying anxiety through relaxation techniques or talking with a flight instructor could be beneficial.

Keeping open a line of honest communication can help you to work towards building your confidence in your flying abilities gradually. The more confidence you develop, the less anxiety you'll feel and, in turn, lessen the likelihood of experiencing motion sickness.

Consider looking into techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, and cognitive-behavioral strategies to help manage anxiety levels.

11. Pick Good Weather Days

Natural light, less wind and a clear view can help reduce uneasiness in the cockpit. Whenever possible, choose flight times when the weather is clear, and the visibility is good.

Also, if you are being open with your flight instructor, they can help you with managing turbulence until your body adjusts to the sensation of rough air.

12. Take Breaks

If you do experience symptoms, tell your CFI that you need to take a break. Allow your instructor take the flight controls while you recoup, a small break can help reset your equilibrium and allow you to continue your flight lesson.

Early Prevention of Motion Sickness

Early recognition of your symptoms can prevent what feels like a mild discomfort from escalating into a full-blown episode of air sickness. At the first sign of feeling unwell during your flight, communicate the issue with your instructor.

Don't worry if you feel frustrated, give yourself time, persistence and patience are required for becoming a professional pilot.

Over time, as you gain more experience and your body adapts to the sensations of flying, your symptoms are more likely to decrease. So give yourself some grace.

Key Tips to Combat Motion Sickness

  • Avoid an Empty Stomach: Eat a light meal before your flight and avoid heavy, spicy and greasy foods.

  • Stay Hydrated: Sip on water before and during your flight lessons.

  • Get Fresh Air: Open the vents in the cockpit(if possible) and allow a flow of fresh air.

  • Practice Deep Breathing: This helps manage anxiety and increases oxygen flow to the brain.

  • Natural Remedies: Ginger tea or candies, licorice root lozenges, peppermint and lavender essential oils.

  • Use Supplemental Oxygen: Especially useful at higher altitudes.

  • Non-Drowsy Medications: Consult with a healthcare provider for the best options.

  • Gradual Exposure: Increase flight time gradually to build tolerance.

  • Focus on the Horizon: This helps stabilize your perception of movement.

  • Address Anxiety: Use relaxation techniques and build confidence in your flying abilities.

  • Opt for Clear Weather: Choose flight times when visibility is good and pick altitudes with less rough air.

  • Take Breaks: Let your flight instructor know if you need a break or to cut the training short until your body adjusts.

Takeaway

Motion sickness is a hurdle that many student pilots face, it can be overcome and it will not stop you from becoming a pilot if that is your dream and goal. Stay the course, focus on what you want to achieve and keep trying out different techniques until you find what works best for you.

The most important thing is to be honest about how and what you feel, and to ask your instructor to try a gradual training process to ease you into feeling more comfortable in the air.

With time and persistence, you will knock out your private pilot license in no time.

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