A couple years back, I was lucky enough to travel to Exmouth in Western Australia to swim with whale sharks. After months of planning and anticipation, we arrived and headed out on the boat. Our first dive was amazing and being alongside such a large animal was breathtaking. As I clambered back onto the deck, a large wave caused our boat to lull quite sharply to the side and back. I don’t normally get motion sick, but something about the bobbing of the boat that day resulted in me spending the rest of tour being sick and lying on the deck wishing for dry land.
What's going on?
Motion (or travel- or sea-) sickness is thought to be caused by your brain receiving conflicting signals between your eyes, proprioception receptors (from your muscles and joints) and inner ears (1). Often people experience it on theme park rides, in cars, on boats, and even with some virtual reality headsets (2). If your vestibular (balance) sensors in your ears feel you’re moving one way and yet your eyes show a different motion, this can result in feelings of uneasiness and dizziness which can lead to nausea and vomiting. With around one in three people being highly susceptible to motion sickness (3), I am not the only one experiencing the uncomfortable sensations of motion sickness. Essentially anyone with normal balance functioning, when exposed to significant stimulation, can become motion sick (4).
What can be done about it?
While there is no 'magic bullet' to alleviate motion sickness entirely, some people have found that ginger is meant to be beneficial in treating nausea and vomiting (5). Over the counter medications and prescriptions medications can help as well (6) but it's best to talk to your doctor about them as many have side effects that may not be wanted (eg drowsiness). The motion of chewing on something (eg chewing gum) is said to act as a distraction from the motion sickness which is why some medicated chewing gums are available (7). Anecdotally, sitting up straight and looking towards the horizon is supposed to help by giving you a stable visual marker. A lack of sleep has been shown to increase the effects of motion sickness (8) so taking a nap may also help.
As for me, next time I go on a boat, I'll remember to bring some ginger to chew on (just in case)!
Should you find your dizziness doesn’t subside soon after the motion has ceased or you have other symptoms such as hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ears), further investigation by a doctor or specialist may be warranted.
~~Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding your health. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.~~
1. Hromatka, B. S., Tung, J. Y., Kiefer, A. K., Do, C. B., Hinds, D. A., & Eriksson, N. (2015). Genetic variants associated with motion sickness point to roles for inner ear development, neurological processes and glucose homeostasis. Human molecular genetics, 24(9), 2700-2708.
2. Palmisano, S., Mursic, R., & Kim, J. (2017). Vection and cybersickness generated by head-and-display motion in the Oculus Rift. Displays, 46, 1-8.
3. Sherman, C. R. (2002). Motion sickness: review of causes and preventive strategies. Journal of travel medicine, 9(5), 251-256.
4. Lackner, J. R. (2014). Motion sickness: more than nausea and vomiting. Experimental brain research, 232(8), 2493-2510.
5. Ernst, E., & Pittler, M. H. (2000). Efficacy of ginger for nausea and vomiting: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. British journal of anaesthesia, 84(3), 367-371.
6. Sutton, M., Mounsey, A. L., & Russell, R. G. (2012). Treatment of motion sickness.
7. Mehta, F. F., & Trivedi, P. (2015). Formulation and characterization of biodegradable medicated chewing gum delivery system for motion sickness using corn zein as gum former. Tropical Journal of Pharmaceutical Research, 14(5), 753-760.
8. Kaplan, J., Ventura, J., Bakshi, A., Pierobon, A., Lackner, J. R., & DiZio, P. (2017). The influence of sleep deprivation and oscillating motion on sleepiness, motion sickness, and cognitive and motor performance. Autonomic Neuroscience, 202, 86-96.