- Health & Wellness
- Dr. Frischer
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Readers who visit my office can't help but notice boating magazines in my waiting room. I am an ocean boater who loves the gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) movement of the waves beneath me. For many of us, however, this rocking motion is unpleasant and can make us quite ill. Why does this happen? What is going on in our body?
Motion sickness, or kinetosis, is a condition in which there is disagreement between the movement we see, and what our vestibular system perceives. Our eyes tell us that the world is still, but our body (that is, the equilibrium sensors in our inner ears), sends signals that the environment is in motion. This discordance between the eyes and the inner ears causes us to send out a general alarm signal to stop all activities, especially the digestive process.
Seasickness, car sickness, or airsickness; they are similar problems resulting from different causes. While in a car, for example, the eyes see mostly the interior of the car, while the vestibular system senses motion as the vehicle goes around corners or over hills. Looking down makes things worse, and looking outside tends to help. Motion sickness can even occur while watching films, especially on large screens. (The cure? Close your eyes!) The most typical symptoms include dizziness, fatigue and nausea with vomiting. Typically, the symptoms of motion sickness resolve when the motion stops. Roughly one third of us are susceptible to it in mild conditions, and up to two thirds are susceptible in more extreme conditions.
There are interesting theories as to why this process exists. The most common is that motion sickness evolved as a defense mechanism against toxins. There were no cars, airplanes, and few boats to be had throughout most of mankind's evolution. If this conflict existed between our eyes and our inner ears, it was a safe assumpton that we were hallucinating, and further, that it was due to the ingestion of poison. The body's logical (and effective!) response was to induce vomiting to rid itself of the suspected toxin.
Don't want to say no to that next mountain drive, flight, or cruise? Here are some suggestions to help:
*Ride where your eyes can see the same motion that your body and inner ears feel. In a car, sit in front and look at the distant scenery. In a boat, sit up high to watch the horizon and get fresh air (despite the fact that there is actually less rocking down below!). In a plane, sit by the window and look outside. If it is dark or there are no windows, try to close your eyes and nap.
*Always face forward.
*Never read while in motion.
*Don't watch or talk to another traveler who is suffering from motion sickness. The power of suggestion is strong!
*Chewing gum can reduce symptoms. Chewing in general has the same effect of reducing the conflict beween vision and balance by readjusting the fluid in the inner ear.
Ã?Fresh and cool air can help. In a car, open a window, and on a boat, move to where you'll feel the fresh breeze. In an airplane, you are out of luck.
*Before and during travel, avoid strong odors and spicy or greasy foods. Instead, try small quantities of 7UP, pretzels, or soda crackers.
*Ginger has mixed results in studies but has the support of the military...and my own family. The theory is that ginger calms the pyloric valve located at the base of the stomach, allowing the stomach to operate more normally.
*Wristbands that stimulate acupressure points have been used for years to prevent motion sickness. Studies have not yet confirmed their effectiveness, but I suspect that they help, and my sister swears by them...and I am not going to argue with my sister!
*When necessary, motion sickness medicines are quite effective. Over-the-counter medication includes Dramamine, Marezine, and Bonine. Take it an hour before you depart, and be aware that some of these medicines cause drowsiness. Prescription medication includes scopolamine (used by astronauts), which is effective for up to three days when used as a transdermal patch.
I wish you safe and comfortable travels!
Dr. Alan Frischer is former chief of staff and former chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.
Published: April 11, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 52