cruisemates newsletter

9.06.2007

The Truth About Seasickness
Mal de Mer, the sickness of the sea, is no fun at all when it happens. Fortunately, the vast majority of cruises sail in waters that are so calm that most passengers are not even aware the ship is moving. Modern ships are so large and stable it is often hard to tell they have even left the dock.

In all of my accumulated time on cruise ships, in total over two years, I can count the number of times I was truly sea sick on one hand. And I am not impervious to nausea.
I get carsick and airsick regularly, but not to the point of throwing up.

My point is that the fear of getting seasick by people who have never cruised is far greater than the actual possiblity that it will happen. But it can happen, though very infrequently. Fortunately, there are simple and effective ways to prevent it no matter how rough the seas get.

There was a recent episode about cures for seasickness on "Mythbusters," a cable television series that scientifically debunks ideas that are considered to be common knowledge but are often false assumptions. After finding suitably susceptible candidates for seasickness, they subjected them to a spinning "astronaut's chair" and induced several common folk cures to see if any of them actually work.

The most common "folk cures" for mal de mer include eating ginger, wearing wrist bands, and inhaling aromatherapy concoctions of the essential oils of peppermint, eucalyptis and menthol. And by the way, if you tell a waiter on a ship you are feeling seasick he is likely to give you sliced apples and dry bread, which might make your stomach feel better, but won't cure you. Also, although you feel the urge to drink lots of water, that is the last thing you want to do. Nausea prevents your body from absorbing the contents in your stomach, and the liquids will just build up in there and make you more likely to purge.

Now, it is important to draw the distinction between mild feelings of discomfort and full blown seasickness. The mild feelings usually include a slight headache, just a twinge of nausea and unsettling in the stomach, and a bit of drowsiness that makes you want to just to remain still, especially not moving your head around too much (because your body's balance system is contained in the inner ears).

When Mythbusters tested most of these common folk cures with the spinning chairs full nausea was induced in most cases within four minutes. Surprisingly to me, one of the "cures" they tested actually seemed to work well enough to prevent seasickness; ginger capsules. They used medical-grade gelatinous capsules full of macerated ginger root. I am glad they found this to work, as ginger is commonly cited as a cure. I would caution readers not to think that anything with ginger in it; ginger snaps, ginger ale or ginger gum will work, however. If you want to try this I recommend getting something that contains a verifiable amount of true ginger root.

Candied ginger, strips or chunks of ginger root dipped in sugar, is not only effective for mild cases, it tastes great. However, I strongly emphasize that this is only for mild cases. Personally, I have not found ginger to be a true preventative of seasickness in extreme conditions.

My preferred method of dealing with mild cases, however, is the application of acupressure wrist bands which have beads to push on a points in the wrists that affects your perception of balance. Not only do they work for us, they are reusable and easy to carry. Mythbusters, however, did show that wrist bands are not effective in extreme conditions. We agree with this. However, on planes and long bus trips you will always see us with our candied ginger and wrist straps - far more often than we ever use them aboard ships.

But - and this is the big but - what if you are at sea and encounter extreme conditions, such as 20 foot waves that are causing the ship to roll and pitch. Those kinds of conditions are like the astronaut's chair, they can nauseate you within a matter of minutes.

The only true preventative for sea-sickness I personally recommend is Meclizine, which is the generic name for Bonine and other medications in pill form that are considered to be safe enough to be sold over the counter without a prescription (in the U.S.). There are other medications that also work, Dramamine or the Scopolamine Patch which is worn behind the ear, but both of these are known to have stronger side effects than Meclizine.

However, it is extremely important not to wait to take the medicine, it must be taken before yo uget sick. Should you become nauseated it is simply to late -- your body will not be able to absorb it and it will not work. In rough seas, take it at the first sign that serious mal de mer is coming on - tiredness, quesiness and/or headache.

One tip I have gleaned by reading user experiences with Meclizine is that a dose is generally good for 24 hours, so if you know you will be entering a stretch of rough water the next day, then take the medicine just before bedtime. Most of the side effects will have abated by the time you wake up, and you should weather the rough weather just fine with no nausea or side effects.

The common side effects for Meclizine are drowsiness and lethargy, but that is far better than being seasick. For a very few people, one of the side effects is nausea, which means it won't work for them. For those people I would try Dramamine, which tends to make you lethargic enough that you have a strong desire go to sleep.

If that doesn't work, the Scopolamine Patch is a strong medicine but with pretty common side effects. Good for three days, if you try one be prepared to take it off immediately of you start to experience blurred vision or memory problems. I see a lot of people wearing them on cruises, but I have perosnally never tried one and hope I never have to.

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