Seasickness - You have or will suffer

Shane Flude
There would be few people reading this magazine that have
not suffered at some stage to some degree with seasickness.
Sometimes referred to as Mal de mer, seasickness is a form
of motion sickness and statistics show that 90% of people
will suffer from some form of motion sickness during their
life. For those venturing onto the water around 30% will be
effected even in calm conditions with the number rising up to
65% as conditions become rougher. Motion sickness includes
car, air, sea and even space sickness and over 90% of astronauts
use some form of motion sickness medication. Studies have
shown that people who become car or air sick will be more
susceptible to sea sickness. For chronic sufferers even simply
watching a rocking boat or moving object is enough to bring
on minor symptoms. Women are more susceptible than men,
Asians more than caucasions and children between 4 and 12
are highly susceptible. Children under 2 are rarely effected
as they are often lying down and do not use the same visual
clues for orientation.
What is motion sickness
The human body keeps its balance by maintaining a centre
of gravity over our feet. The inner ear is where balance is
achieved and the body sends signals to the brain via the eyes,
muscles and various nerve cells about movement. In the case
of sea sickness the eyes perceive the cabin walls and sides of
the boat to be stable whereas the inner ear is screaming that
it is not due to the rocking nature of the boat felt by the rest
of the body. These confusing motion signals that reach the
brain bring on the sickness. A more detailed description is
as follows.
There are a series of canals in the inner ear filled with
fluid called the labyrinth which lie at different angles. When
the head is moved the rolling of the fluid inside these canals
tells the brain how far, fast and in what direction the body is
moving. Information from the canals is passed along to the
brain via the vestibular nerve which lies next to the cochlear
nerve. If the brain knows the position of the head it can work
out the position of the body. The brain relies on information
from the eyes and muscles and also on information from the
inner ear. When this information conflicts the result can be
seasickness. This clash of sensory information
is passed along a portion of the brain known as
the area postrema which lies close to the brain
area that is responsible for vomiting and as we all
know this is a common symptom of seasickness.
Unfortunately unlike other ailments where the
body can purge itself through vomiting the nausea
from seasickness is often not assisted at all by the
act of vomiting.
Whilst researching this article I came upon a
very detailed scientific description of vomiting
which I think you will enjoy;
The principal motor act of vomiting
is accomplished through the simultaneous
contractions of the inspiratory and expiratory
respiratory muscles and is mediated by neurons
in the lateral medullary reticular formation and
perhaps by cells near the medullary midline.
Cocontraction of the diaphragm and abdominal
muscles increases pressure on the stomach which
causes gastric contents to be ejected through the
There are three main trig gers that bring about
1. Being below deck on a boat for extended periods of
time and therefore being unable to predict the motion of
the ship
2. Looking through binoculars or cameras which focuses
your attention on a narrow field of view so your brain cannot
adjust to the whole environment.
3. Reading books, compasses, fish finders or doing any
time consuming detailed work that takes your attention away
from the big picture, that huge rolling ocean.
Symptoms are numerous and people who suffer badly will
relate well to this list in order of suffering;
Excessive production of saliva
Loosing colour in the face
Vomiting and bowel movements
Death( Only joking but some people tell me it would be a
welcome relief at this stage)
There are no sure fired preventative measures for
seasickness apart from not getting on the boat and as I’ve stated
earlier even looking at a rolling boat can set some people off.
Likewise there are no magical cures once you become ill apart
from getting off that damn boat. Again the effects can follow
you and last for hours even once on shore. There are however
a number of medications and physical acts which can lessen
the effects and assist to some degree.
Ginger in the form of drops, tablets or capsules have been
on the market for a number of years and are claimed to lessen
the effects by acting as a soothing agent on the stomach. Most
brands recommend taking it several hours before heading
out. There have been a number of studies done on ginger by
various agencies around the world including a segment by the
Mythbusters crew. Overall results are varied but the general
consensus is that ginger does at least have a minor calming
effect on the stomach. Results on my boat have also varied
so I’m not convinced.
There are several over the counter medications such
as Quells and Travelcalm. Most of these medications are
antihistamine based and work by acting on calming the
stimulation around the inner ear. For best results an initial
dosage before heading out is again recommended, sometimes
even the night before. Most antihistamines however have the
side effect of drowsiness.
Prescription medications are the last resort medicinally
but I have not personally been at sea with anyone that has
used them. Studies on Naval sailors shows effective results.
A common medication is called Scopolamine in the form of
an external patch wore behind the ear sold under the name
of Transderm Scop. Again it needs to be applied up to eight
hours before use for best results. Side effects can include dry
mouth and drowsiness. This medication works in a similar
way to antihistamines by acting to calm the area around the
inner ear.
Now it may sound silly but the wearing of ear plugs may
also bring some relief, I guess by exerting some pressure
around the inner ear and acting to calm this area. Some people
I know swear by them, the jury on my boat is still out.
Pressure bands which act on the acupuncture point on the
lower wrist are another option. They are marketed under names
such as Sea and Magna bands, generally just an elastic band
with button like attachment to press down on the acupuncture
point. They sell for around $25. The top of the line appears
to be the Relief Band which is an American product in the
form of a wrist watch which sends electronic pulses to the
acupuncture point. They sell for around $125. A mate of a
mate told me” They will bring you back from deaths door
and you will even feel like eating again.” I will need to see this
one in action.
Apart from medications there are a number of simple acts
which will greatly assist with seasickness. Firstly try staying
in the fresh air up on deck and avoid anywhere with engine
fumes. Slow deep breathing can help and avoid fatty or spicy
foods and alcohol before heading out. If the boat is large
enough locate the position on it with the least motion, this is
usually in the middle down low towards the stern. The horizon
provides a point of reference and is important to focus along
it and avoid looking down. If you are looking out you will
see the approaching waves and swell, allow your body to roll
with it instead of fighting the motion. If symptoms start to
creep in closing your eyes and laying on your back can also
help. Excessive movement of the head only swirls the fluid
around in the inner ear canals which can add to the sensory
For those of you that suffer from this most debilitating
of conditions I hope that some part of this article may assist
you on your next voyage. Thankfully I am one of the lucky
few that as yet has not added to the berley trail. The last time
such an unplanned trail was laid over the side of my boat whilst
trout fishing we experienced a double hookup whilst trolling.
Now this was blamed on soggy chips from Deloraine but we
all know better and I can’t promote this form of trout fishing
either because it is illegal to berley for trout in Tasmania.
What works for one person may not work for the next so
experiment with the different relief methods. We can’t have
a little seasickness getting in the way of a great days boating
and fishing.
Shane Flude
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