The A, B, Seas of Motion Sickness

It’s our second day on the ocean and the boat is really starting to move! When it comes to motion sickness, let’s just say I’m very experienced. Planes, cars, boats, roller coasters, I’ve been sick on them all!

It’s our second day on the ocean and the boat is really starting to move! When it comes to motion sickness, let’s just say I’m very experienced. Planes, cars, boats, roller coasters, I’ve been sick on them all! Needless to say I was a little nervous for two months on the open ocean but so far I’m feeling okay thanks to lots of advice from our onboard physician Dr. Gene.

I’ve been thinking, why exactly do some people get seasick? It happens when the motion your eyes perceive does’t match up with the motion that your inner ear senses but it turns out, no one is completely sure why this is such a problem. I did a little research and found there are two very interesting hypothesis…

Hypothesis #1: You’ve been poisoned!

Another possible reason what you see and what you feel may not match up is may have been poisoned and you’re hallucinating. Therefore, when you’re brain notices a mismatch between your senses, it concludes you’ve swallowed something you shouldn’t have and decided to reverse that very quickly!

Hypothesis #2: Nice (eye) muscles!

This one is a bit more complex, its called the Nystagmus Hypothesis (Nystagmus means involuntary eye movements). Essentially there are a lot of muscles surrounding each of your eyes that move them. When you perceive motion, these muscles can be stretched in weird ways. This can stimulate a particular nerve called the Vagus nerve which can control your digestive track. Stimulation of this nerve has been shown to cause vomiting!

Both of these are strong hypotheses, it makes a lot of sense that over time we have evolved mechanisms to identify and expel poisons from our body. However, the second theory explains why reading when you’re in motion is such a problem for many people and why some drugs that suppress eye movement can help treat motion sickness. The answer may in fact be some combination of both of them.But let’s get to the important part, what to do about it!

So what helps?

A quick google search turns up no shortage of potential motion sickness remedies and everyone on the JR has their favourite but some have more scientific support than others…

  • Control what you’re seeing and where you are
    • This can help a bit, reading is bad, starting at the horizon is good. Plus that usually gets out out on the deck of the ship and fresh air is never a bad thing. A ship is most stable near the water so it’s best to not be too high up or too far below deck.
  • Eat something
    • This may sound counterintuitive but its one of the most frequently given pieces of advice on the ship, if you’re feeling on edge, try eating a little something (moderation is key here). I couldn’t find any scientific studies on this one but a number of people onboard swear by it.
  • Try ginger
    • Studies have shown conflicting results regarding ginger’s effectiveness against motion sickness itself but it appears to be able to prevent nausea quite well.
  • Take some medication
    • Talk to a doctor about this one, there are a number of drugs which have been shown to help motion sickness. These can have some annoying side effects, there are lots of sleepy scientists on the boat these days but generally these are better than the alternative!
  • Take a placebo
    • To study if a treatment is effective, studies use placebo controlled trials. This means they give one group of participants a “dummy” treatment with none of the ingredient in question. Most studies on motion sickness have found that the placebos themselves are somewhat effective so if you think it’s going to work then it’s probably worth a try!
  • Get off the boat
    • This one would help for sure but it’s not really an option for us!