Real Reme­dies

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As a cruise ship physi­cian for 14 years, my ex­pe­ri­ence aboard ships has shown me that a con­trol­ling per­son­al­ity is the sin­gle most fre­quent de­ter­mi­nant for the de­vel­op­ment of sea­sick­ness. Anx­i­ety and fear ex­ac­er­bate this po­ten­tial.

On the other hand, cer­tain fac­tors seem to ex­ert a pro­tec­tive in­flu­ence. Any spir­i­tual or re­li­gious be­lief sys­tem where one’s destiny is not solely de­ter­mined by in­di­vid­ual vo­li­tion, but by “heav­enly” or cos­mic forces, seems to stave off the nau­se­at­ing tur­moil of sea­sick­ness. Fol­low­ing this train of thought, I ver­i­fied my hy­poth­e­sis with the trav­el­ing clergy and dis­cov­ered that whether Jewish, Catholic, or Protes­tant, faith acts to safe­guard against gas­tric re­ac­tion to the sea’s swell.

Med­i­cal stud­ies have also iden­ti­fied cer­tain high-risk groups for sea­sick­ness. Women are af­fected more than men. Preg­nancy, menses, and birth con­trol pill use in­crease risk. Adults are found to be more sus­cep­ti­ble than chil­dren. Typ­i­cally chil­dren un­der the age of 2 do not suf­fer sea­sick­ness. Peo­ple with a di­ag­no­sis of ver­tigo/dizziness from a pre-ex­ist­ing med­i­cal con­di­tion or mi­graines are at high risk for sea­sick­ness. Nu­mer­ous reme­dies from sci­en­tific to anec­do­tal have been de­scribed with dif­fer­ent suc­cess rates. For those who pre­fer to re­frain from tak­ing med­i­ca­tions, cer­tain sim­ple mea­sures may be tried ini­tially.

If sea­sick­ness oc­curs when the brain re­ceives con­flict­ing sig­nals as de­scribed above, sit­ting on an open deck and look­ing at a far hori­zon will de­crease this sen­sory clash and re­lieve the symp­toms. On most ships, the Med­i­cal Cen­ter is lo­cated on the lower decks, midship. There is an ob­vi­ous rea­son for this and pas­sen­gers who suf­fer re­peat­edly from sea­sick­ness should book a cabin midship on the lower decks where the move­ment of the ship is felt the least. Also, ly­ing flat re­lieves sea­sick­ness by de­creas­ing the sen­sory stim­uli.

Med­i­ca­tions are more ef­fec­tive taken prior to symp­toms rather than wait­ing for them to de­velop, so if sea­sick­ness is a re­cur­rent is­sue, you would be well ad­vised to take the med­i­ca­tion be­fore set­ting sail.

Most cruise lines use meclizine to prevent sea­sick­ness and dis­trib­ute it free of charge. It has few side ef­fects and has a chew­able for­mu­la­tion. It’s mar­keted in the United States as Dra­mamine Less Drowsy (the name speaks to its de­creased side ef­fects on se­da­tion). Sim­i­lar med­i­ca­tions in­clude Dra­mamine (di­men­hy­dri­nate) and Be­nadryl (diphen­hy­dramine), which are more se­dat­ing.

Trans­derm Scop, or the “patch,” is also pop­u­lar with cruise ship pas­sen­gers as it al­lows you to “wear” your med­i­ca­tion and needs to be changed ev­ery 72 hours. I’m not par­tic­u­larly fond of this op­tion, since I have been con­fronted re­peat­edly with ag­i­tated, con­fused el­derly pas­sen­gers in the throes of side ef­fects. In fact, it’s con­sid­ered an in­ap­pro­pri­ate med­i­ca­tion for peo­ple over 65 years of age.

If oral med­i­ca­tions are un­suc­cess­ful, the Med­i­cal Cen­ter will most likely carry in­jectable med­i­ca­tions such as promet­hazine and meto­clo­pramide, both with se­da­tion side ef­fects. Th­ese ser­vices are typ­i­cally billed to your cabin.

Cer­tain al­ter­na­tive ther­a­pies claim to be ef­fec­tive as well. Med­i­cal stud­ies do sub­stan­ti­ate ben­e­fits with 1 to 2 grams of gin­ger taken orally. Acu­pres­sure and wrist­bands are con­tro­ver­sial, but are safe and al­low re­lief for some pas­sen­gers. If you do want to try this, turn your hand up­ward, iden­tify the wrist crease clos­est to the hand, put three fin­gers along­side this crease, and ap­ply pres­sure in the mid-fore­arm at the level of the fin­ger clos­est to you ( Nei Guan or P6 point).

Re­as­sur­ingly, ex­po­sure to con­tin­u­ous stim­uli con­fers ha­bit­u­a­tion and a de­crease in symp­toms after 24 to 36 hours no mat­ter what you do. In other words, the body gets used to the mo­tion of the ocean. The gen­eral mood of the ship im­proves after one day at sea as ev­ery­one de­vel­ops their “sea legs” and gets down to en­joy­ing the ameni­ties of the ship and port calls. As the sailors say, “fair winds and fol­low­ing seas” to all.


Gin­ger has been shown to re­lieve nau­sea.

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