Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, British naval hero at the Battle of Trafalgar, might have been a serious military strategist of the highest order, but he also had a sense of humour. Showing absolutely no sense of sympathy with those afflicted with 'mal de mer' on his vessels, he would offer the following words of comfort: "You'll feel better if you sit under a tree." When you think about it, never a truer word was spoken. But while those fortunate non-sufferers might find much to smile about in the discomfort of their shipmates, for seasickness sufferers there is scarcely a worse affliction known to man.
If you've been on a boat, chances are you've either suffered the effects of this seafarers' curse, or you've seen its effects up close and uncomfortably personal. We've all heard about magic potions that claim to ease or eliminate seasickness, but are they safe? There's also the issue of what seasickness is and why it affects some and not others. Surely, if we can put a man on the moon, we can stop our fun on a boat from being ruined.
Being sick on a boat is part of a group of ailments that result in nausea caused by motion. Motion sickness is a collection of complex symptoms that usually includes nausea, often accompanied by vague abdominal discomfort, vomiting, dizziness and related symptoms. It is fundamentally caused by repetitive angular and linear acceleration and deceleration.
Individual susceptibility to motion sickness varies greatly. However, it's more common in women. Unfortunately, once nausea sets in, our digestive function effectively shuts down. As many boaties know from firsthand experience, anything taken by mouth doesn't get absorbed, and often is rejected shortly thereafter, with some violence.
CAUSE AND EFFECT
Generally speaking, the cause of motion and seasickness is unknown, but it is related to repetitive stimulation of the inner ear's balancing mechanisms. Movement via any form of transportation causes conflicting vestibular, visual and proprioceptive input (which means the awareness of our position in space, in relation to the rest of our body or any body part). That includes instances where the pattern of motion differs from that previously experienced, or when motion is expected, but not yet experienced. Visual stimuli, such as a moving horizon, poor ventilation, fumes and emotional factors, such as anxiety or fear, will act with motion to precipitate an episode.
Nausea and vague abdominal discomfort are characteristic. Vomiting may also occur. These symptoms are sometimes preceded by yawning, hyperventilation, salivation, pallor, profuse cold sweating and sleepiness. Other symptoms include dizziness, headache, swallowing air, fatigue, weakness and inability to concentrate. With prolonged exposure, you can adapt. However, symptoms may recur if motion increases or after a short respite.
Prolonged seasickness with vomiting can lead to dehydration, exhaustion and lowered blood pressure.
That's the medical explanation, so let's explore the options to prevent and, if necessary, treat the illness. As I'm sure chronic sufferers can appreciate, preventing these issues from occurring is so much more effective than trying to fix the problem after symptoms have arrived.
My patients give me great feedback about a product called Avomine. This is an antihistamine with a long-acting ingredient. It does sometimes cause drowsiness, but if taken as a single tablet dose last thing before bed, any drowsiness wears off while you sleep, thereby giving complete relief from any symptoms for the entire next day. Other antihistamines are also available in liquid form from your local pharmacy. Brands like Avil and Phenergan have been around for years, but always check the appropriate dose with the pharmacist so that age and weight can be equated correctly.
Non-drug therapies can work really well, too. Reducing anxiety and fear through reassurance is very effective. Brauer Nervatona Calm Oral Spray does not interfere with concentration, but can act to reinforce and reassure an anxious person, who is convinced that sea sickness is inevitable. The convenience of a small oral spray with a rapid onset of action is invaluable for the anxious passenger. Additionally, this company has Traveler's Relief Oral Spray, which is claimed to relieve all the symptoms of seasickness using homeopathic remedies. This formulation addresses each of the components of motion sickness. For example, it contains cocculus, which stops the vertigo and nausea quite specifically. Additional specific ingredients are claimed to stop the associated symptoms. If you are taking any prescribed medicines from your doctor, the Brauer range does not interfere in any way with these medicines. Sufferers can use Nervatona Calm and Traveler's Relief with confidence.
For people below deck, keeping eyes closed and minds occupied with conversation helps. When on deck, try and keep the eyes fixed on the horizon, or on visible land.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Some research shows that particular foods increase nausea. These include high sodium foods (say, potato chips), high thiamine foods (eggs), and high protein foods (milk products and cheese). Additionally, eating more in the preceding 24 hours made things worse, as did consuming higher density foods (ie: with a higher calorie content).
A Sea-Band can also be worn on each wrist and is also said to relieve nausea symptoms. These are worn on a specific area of the wrist, which is claimed to isolate an acupressure point, and are used extensively in Europe.
Herbal medicine can play an important role, and has been traditionally used for hundreds of years safely and effectively. The herb of choice is ginger. Ginger works best if it is taken regularly, so starting to take it a few days before a trip is the best option. It comes in a variety of forms. Tablets are most convenient. In this form it is often accompanied by magnesium and vitamin B6, each of which enhances the action of the ginger. Ginger tea, dry ginger, ginger in cooking and crystallised ginger are options before and during the trip.
Breathing techniques are also worth trying. Deep breathing voluntarily alters a behavior associated with stress. A study in 1999 showed that those who took deep breaths for approximately 15 minutes (four seconds in and four seconds out) had a significant reduction in symptoms of motion sickness. It seems that deep breathing reduces the anticipatory anxiety of motion sickness.
Some patients have reported success with hypnotherapy, and with acupuncture. Don't be quick to dismiss these modalities, but keep them there to consider if all else fails. Remember though, focus on the outcome so that you can enjoy your time on the water.
In summary, explore every option to maintain your boating enjoyment. Keep your fluids up whilst you are travelling and consider the benefits of electrolyte replacement with Hydralyte. By keeping the minerals in your body in balance, it helps with energy and vitality. Chamomile or peppermint tea helps settle queasy tummies and settles abdominal discomfort. Charcoal capsules can help with nausea, too, and frequent dizziness or lightheadedness is said to be minimised by taking ginkgo biloba regularly. Ginkgo supports circulation to the inner ear, the area that comes under the pump when motion becomes challenging or confusing for our brains.
Remember the prevention aspects with Avomine (night before), ginger (from a few days before) and Nervatona Calm for anxiety. If symptoms still arise, Nervatona Calm can reduce the effects once you are underway.
In the meantime, happy boating – or if all else fails, just sit under a tree …
Gerald Quigley is a Community Pharmacist and Medical Herbalist with skills in the integration of complementary and prescribed medicines. He is also a regular guest on Melbourne's 3AW radio station, where he discusses health options and offers guidance on health issues. In addition, he produces two daily health segments on music station Magic 1278. He is also a regular columnist in Retail Pharmacy magazine, and a contributor to a wide variety of health and pharmacy publications.