How to prevent motion sickness


By Keith Dahlin

Ninety percent of people suffer from motion sickness at some point, but prescription, over-the-counter and natural remedies can help prevent it.

Different preventives work for different people with varying degrees of effectiveness; however, the trick is finding your personal panacea before you’re in a pickle. To embrace the briny deep confidently, do your research and perform a self-test days or weeks before heading out.

Last summer, one of my sailing students downed an antiemetic (drugs effective against vomiting and nausea) without first testing it. She became severely dizzy even before stepping on the dock and had to sleep it off in the car while her husband enjoyed a beautiful day on the water.

Motion sickness, or kinetosis, occurs when the vestibular system (the inner ear system that contributes to balance and spatial orientation) doesn’t agree with visual stimuli, fouling up the central nervous system. Nausea, fatigue and dizziness ensue.

The most common forms of seasickness remedies include prescription drugs such as scopolamine and promethazine and over-the-counter medications containing dimenhydrinate, meclizine HCL and cyclizine as well as natural and homeopathic remedies.

Developing sea legs, or vestibular rehabilitation, may take some time. Don’t make things worse from the get-go.

Many antiemetics contain an antihistamine, which can cause drowsiness and dry mouth. For most people, sucking on a hard candy counteracts the parched palate, but a few experience severe symptoms necessitating an alternative form of treatment.

If taking one of these drugs, evaluate your degree of drowsiness before departure. Feeling sleepy or useless underway can be frustrating for everyone aboard.

The Coast Guard “cocktail” contains a mixture of promethazine, a strong sedative that quells nausea, and ephedrine, a stimulant taken to counteract promethazine’s sedation. This formula helps sailors keep their sea legs for 20 hours in 20-foot seas on a 44-foot cutter.

If you prefer the natural approach, both ginger root and acupressure have become popular substitutes for prescription and OTC treatments. I have downed a ginger ale or two prior to sailing into heavy weather just to be on the safe side. Not all ginger ales contain real ginger, however, so find one that does. Certain compounds found in ginger may influence gastrointestinal function, and research has shown ginger to be more effective than placebo for treating nausea caused by seasickness. Whether it’s capsules, ginger snaps or ginger ale, keep some type of ginger aboard just in case.

Another natural cure for nausea, elastic or adjustable acupressure wristbands have a plastic button that applies slight pressure to a point just on the inside of the wrist (called the Nei-Kuan or Nei-Guan point) to block the signals to the brain that cause seasickness. To get the full effect, you must wear a band on each wrist. You can put them on before departure or during the trip. Appropriate for both adults and children, acupressure wristbands have no side effects.

Also popular, homeopathic remedies can affect people differently, so try them out beforehand.

Developing sea legs, or vestibular rehabilitation, may take some time. Don’t make things worse from the get-go. To decrease or prevent a storm in your stomach,

  • get plenty of rest
  • don’t eat greasy or acidic foods, but don’t go on an empty stomach
  • drink plenty of water before and during your voyage
  • avoid alcoholic beverages and diesel fumes
  • stay busy
  • avoid going below and looking through binoculars and
  • don’t read.

Following these tips, conducting a little research and experimenting with natural or traditional medication before setting sail should help you stay off the binnacle list for good.

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