These Motion Sickness Patches Gave Me Wild Side Effects

Despite being a seasoned traveller, I frequently suffer from debilitating motion sickness. I can’t text on a bus, read GPS in a car or sightsee on a boat trip without feeling queasy. I rarely vomit, but I often feel uncomfortable and struggle to enjoy the journey. On road trips, I typically turn to Gravol (dimenhydrinate), but I hate how sleepy the pills make me. The ginger-based non-drowsy ones do not seem to work. So, on a recent escape to the Canadian Rockies, I tried a motion sickness patch for the first time. 

It started out fine, but ended up being a scary experience.

On the plane from Vancouver to Calgary, I peeled the backing off the little circular patch and stuck it behind my ear, following the instructions. The one thing I didn’t do properly was immediately wash my hands. I didn’t have a sink available (we were just boarding the plane), so I drenched my palms and fingers in hand sanitizer, hoping it would be enough.

That might’ve been my biggest mistake.

Beautiful Banff

Our flight got in late, and it took awhile to get our rental car sorted. It was dark out when we rolled into Banff, passing a herd of elk. I was excited, and also relieved that I hadn’t experienced any nausea on the drive from Calgary. So far, so good.

We checked into our AirBnb and unpacked. I flopped onto the big bed, exhausted, but I needed to wash my face and brush my teeth. I’d forgotten about the patch seeping medication into my skin, still stuck behind my left ear. The instructions said I could leave it on for three days, which would be perfect timing for our long weekend road trip.

The patch pack

Grabbing my toiletries, I sauntered into the washroom and splashed water and face wash onto my cheeks.

I glanced into the mirror and screamed.

My first thought was that I must’ve forgotten to take out my contact lenses. Except, I remembered, I don’t wear contacts anymore, not since my laser eye surgery years ago. I yelled to my partner, Tavis, “Come here! Hurry!” He bustled into the bathroom, concern showing in his eyes. “Something is wrong,” I cried. “Something is really wrong with me.”

“Woah,” Tavis said, peering into my altered eyes.

I looked like an alien. One of my pupils was gigantic; the other, barely visible. Strangely, my vision wasn’t affected—I could see fine. It was like my tiny pupil was compensating for my dilated one: my left eye was sucking in all the light; my right eye was desperately trying not to take in any excess.

The day after…

I couldn’t look into the mirror. I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry or close my eyes and go to sleep, hoping I’d wake up to discover my expanded pupil had all been a bad dream.

Tavis googled my strange symptom and learned that I was experiencing a common side effect of the medicinal patch behind my left ear. He assured me that my pupils “should” go back to normal in 24 to 72 hours, though it could last for up to two weeks. With the wedding two days away, I knew I’d want to take photos—but not looking like this! More importantly, were my eyes actually okay? How could my vision not be affected?

Squeezing my eyes closed, I went to sleep, woke up the next morning, and allowed myself to look in the mirror. I even snapped a photo—something I couldn’t bear to do the night before. While my pupils weren’t back to normal, they did look significantly better.

We packed up and drove the car to our first destination of the day, Lake Louise. At the tea house, I took a picture, and if you look closely, you can see my pupils are still uneven.

Later that day, I was happy to notice the unevenness of my pupils slowly going back to normal. By the last day of our trip, my pupils were evenly sized again. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Once I was back home, it hit me—I hadn’t felt car sick at all during our road trip.

The scopolamine motion sickness patch had negative, unintended consequences, but I have to admit: they served their purpose⁠—though I won’t be using them again.

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