S is for Seasickness

Blehhh. Seasickness is an unpleasant subject for anyone. I suffer from it myself and had to put away my youthful plans to sail about the world singlehanded partially because of it. Oddly, my own seasickness does not come from either pitch or yaw, but from roll of the boat. That and the smell of diesel fuel. I guess there’s no fuel like an oil fuel. Ahem, I said there’s no fuel like a … <cough>.

Back to the business at hand, a few small tidbits of information about mal de mer. First, it is caused by the motion of the craft (duh) but it’s a little more complex than that. Most folks when they feel the effects will tend to concentrate on how they feel, on the inner world or close their eyes and try to sleep. This is the worst thing you can do, because it causes the brain to get conflicting signals. The motion sensors in our ears tell us the world is moving and the eyes still show a world that is still. This contradiction of input causes the brain to send out an alarm (ahhooooga, ahhooooga) to the body to stop all processes, including digestion. The solution, or so I’m told, is to concentrate on the horizon until the horizon appears/feels fixed and horizontal. This synchronizes the visual and motion inputs to the brain and forces us to switch from the reference system of the boat to that of the earth. So they say.

A few more little factoids about seasickness:

  • It’s completely unfair, but women tend to be seasick more than men; it takes less motion for them to become nauseated. Infants and the elderly are less susceptible. On a large ship on a transatlantic crossing up to 30% of the passengers will be sick. On a small sailboat the percentage is a little higher and in a small inflatable liferaft the percentage is up to around 60%.
  • The symptoms follow a fairly standard order: frequent yawning, slight headache, dry mouth, pallor, cold sweat, nausea and finally, hanging over the rail.
  • Lying down is the best position, followed by standing up without holding on to anything (unless you’re on deck and are in danger of going overboard). The worst position is sitting down. For me in particular, sitting down and reading is a killer.
  • The medications to counteract seasickness must be taken before sailing or rough weather.

In my own experience the wrist bands are completely ineffective. Some swear by them, I swore at them as being useless …ahhh … junk. Yes I’m sure that’s the word I used, junk. There are medications that can help. I have tried Scopolamine to great effect. When I was younger it made me bulletproof, it was great. Now that I’m over the half-century mark, it just gives me cotton mouth. I’ll try it again in future if I need to go on a ship but for right now, ehhh.

Another medication that apparently is quite efficacious is Promethazine. Unfortunately this is known to cause drowsiness, but ephedrine is known to counteract this and the combination (so I’m told) is known as a ‘Coast Guard Cocktail.’

I’m also told by those who have been seasick a lot that the only sure cure for mal de mer is to sit under a tree for a while. I’ll try the scientific one the next time I start feeling it, but in the long run by this time I’ll count on the latter solution every time.


4 thoughts on “S is for Seasickness

  1. The inner ear problem comes from little otoliths (calcium stones) rolling every which way over cells with little sensory hairs in each of the semicircular canals. I’ve tried the scopolomine patch behind the ear with great effect, but then I don’t get seasick easily – strange, given I am XX. concentrating on the horizon works wonders – but how do you do that if you are lying down?

  2. Me, myself and I? I dunno. That’s just what the experts said. When I personally laid down it was far too late (I was on a converted tuna trawler research vessel off the coast, hired on as student crew when I was at university) and I thought I was doing to die. I know the little stones getting into the wrong places causes vertigo, but I thought that was a different thing than seasickness. Maybe now that I’m older the effect will be less? One can only hope.

  3. I have motion sickness, from trying to read in a car, but even riding an airplane, or a train, or I think it is the same reason I get sea sick. But the weird thing is I love roller coasters! I can’t ride things that go round and round though. I want to take a cruise, but am worried about being sea sick the whole time. And I hate that when I took the train on a trip to Chicago it was so much wasted time that I couldn’t read because of my motion sickness. Same thing for being on an airplane. Great post!
    If you have time you should stop by and check out my S Post.

    • I know this sounds strange, but it’s nice to hear I’m not alone in this. For years I thought it was lack of character, lack of ‘strong moral fiber’, but no, it’s just how my inner ears react to motion. I’ll check out your posts if you’ll check out my stories and tell me what you think!. thanks, B

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