This is the time of year for summer vacations. What kind of travel are you planning? Will you take a cruise, fly to Europe or drive to a mountain camping spot? Whatever transport you choose, motion sickness could interfere with your enjoyment.
Seasickness While Watching Whales:
We experienced pretty severe nausea on a whale-watching expedition off Cape Cod many years ago. We had failed to prepare adequately for the sensation of the boat moving swiftly through ocean waves. By the time we returned to land, one of us was green around the gills.
Remedies to Combat Motion Sickness:
If we had planned ahead, we would have stocked up on ginger. Chinese sailors were using this spice thousands of years ago to combat motion sickness. Danish scientists studied the use of ginger in naval cadets unaccustomed to sailing in heavy seas (Acta Oto-laryngologica, Jan-Feb. 1998). The young men were given placebo or powdered ginger root in capsules.
The researchers reported:
“Ginger root reduced the tendency to vomiting and cold sweating significantly better than placebo did (p less than 0.05). With regard to vomiting, a modified Protection Index (PI) = 72 percent was calculated. Remarkably fewer symptoms of nausea and vertigo were reported after ginger root ingestion, but the difference was not statistically significant.”
Physicians are skeptical about the value of ginger for motion sickness. Readers, however, have found this ancient herbal medicine helpful.
One man shared this experience:
“I’m a high-performance driving instructor and, depending on my students’ driving abilities, I can get car-sick pretty quick. I’ve found that prevention is more successful than trying to overcome a bout of nausea, so I always take a couple of ground ginger powder capsules each morning just before the school commences. More importantly, I always tell my students that I have a very sensitive stomach and, if they don’t drive smoothly, I could get sick in their car!”
Another reader has a slightly less exotic approach:
“Ginger gum is good. I have gone on several cruises and it’s the only thing that keeps me from being seasick. When the nausea begins, I chew one or two pieces of ginger gum.”
Some people like to use a combination of methods.
One person wrote:
“As a sailor who’s had occasional bouts of seasickness, it was frustrating to learn that medications for motion sickness have anticholinergic activity that could scramble my brain. I guess I’ll have to stick with ginger and my Sea-Bands. Consumers and doctors need to be informed about these drugs.”
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Acupressure Wrist Bands:
The Sea-Bands this reader mentioned are elasticized wrist bands with a plastic button to stimulate an acupressure point.
Here is what another reader said about them:
“I purchased the elastic wrist bands from the drug store. They work on all kinds of transportation, including trams that go up the mountain. The bands have a round button that you place over the pressure point on the inside of the wrist.”
Quite a few other readers are enthusiastic about Sea-Bands or other types of acupressure wrist bands.
“Sea Bands are the best for my family! We have used them on cruises for years. They work so much better than meds which can have side effects. My mother puts hers on before she boards the ship and never has any motion sickness.”
Granny Jo shared her experience:
“Sea Bands work really well. I was on a cruise and was lying on the bed feeling sick to my stomach from motion sickness. Although I had my sea bands on, I felt awful and couldn’t figure out why. I pressed on my bands and in an instant the sick feeling disappeared. Apparently, I didn’t have them in quite the correct spot. I will not travel without them.”
Some readers have tried a variation on this remedy:
“I use a Reliefband with great results. This goes on the acupressure spot on the wrist and delivers a small electric shock. It is not painful. Note that it is not waterproof, so take it off before swimming or doing other water activities.”
We should note that the Reliefband, at approximately $175, is a lot more expensive than bands with simple plastic buttons.
Jan had success with actual acupuncture:
“When I went on my last cruise, I had significant motion sickness that was spoiling my vacation. Luckily, there was an acupuncturist on board. One visit cured my motion sickness for the whole trip (and I was told I could return to the acupuncturist, if necessary, at no additional charge). A wonderful solution with no adverse side effects!”
Scientists who have studied this treatment have not come up with a convincing consensus. There are relatively few studies, and most are nearly 20 years old.
Medications for motion sickness such as scopolamine or dimenhydrinate can ease the queasiness. Doctors consider them the first line treatment, together with looking at the horizon and other sensible precautions (Deutsches Arzteblatt International, Oct. 12, 2018). However, readers sometimes worry about the potential side effects of such drugs over the long term.
Q. I was just reading your article on anticholinergic drugs and decided to check on a drug, promethazine, that I take for motion sickness.
I usually only take it when I travel on cruise ships, airplanes or bus tours, but that can be for a week or more at a time. Promethazine causes drowsiness, but I just force my way through.
Promethazine, I just learned, is an anticholinergic drug. I’d prefer to avoid such medicines, especially since they increase the risk for dementia.
One partial alternative that helps me a bit is something called a ‘relief band.’ It emits an electronic impulse that triggers the brain to stop stomach spasms.
I’ve tried all the OTC remedies I know of such as ginger, but they don’t work. Do you know of any other remedies for motion sickness that are not anticholinergic?
A. Anticholinergic drugs block the brain chemical acetylcholine. New research suggests that regular use of anticholinergic drugs may increase the risk of dementia (JAMA Internal Medicine, March, 2015). We have compiled a list of anticholinergic drugs here.
Most motion sickness meds, including Dramamine and Transderm Scop, have anticholinergic activity. The good news is that most people do not use such drugs for more than a few weeks a year. That should not pose a significant health risk.
We did hear about one more possible remedy. We haven’t seen any research, and we haven’t polled others about it.
Nevertheless, Jeff wrote:
“I suffered from motion sickness for years. Even walking in a mall would cause motion sickness, from all the motion of others around me. But about twenty years ago I started drinking a cup of caffeinated tea before traveling or going anywhere where I could have a problem with motion sickness. If don’t drink the tea I get sick, but as long as I do drink it I never get motion sickness. I can even read while riding in a car on winding, hilly roads and not get sick. Someone else who had the same problem told me about this. It may not work for everyone, but it’s worth a try; it surely works for me.”
Whatever you use this summer to control motion sickness, have a wonderful time and stay safe.
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. Read Terry's Full Bio.
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Grøntved A et al, "Ginger root against seasickness. A controlled trial on the open sea." Acta Oto-laryngologica, Jan-Feb. 1998.
Hofmann D et al, "Acupressure in management of postoperative nausea and vomiting in high-risk ambulatory surgical patients." Journal of Perianesthesia Nursing, Aug. 2017. DOI: 10.1016/j.jopan.2015.09.010
Nilsson I et al, "The efficacy of P6 acupressure with sea-band in reducing postoperative nausea and vomiting in patients undergoing craniotomy: A randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled study." Journal of Neurosurgical Anesthesiology, Jan. 2015. DOI: 10.1097/ANA.0000000000000089
Koch A et al, "The neurophysiology and treatment of motion sickness." Deutsches Artzeblatt International, Oct. 12, 2018. DOI: 10.3238/arztebl.2018.0687.
Gray SL et al, "Cumulative use of strong anticholinergics and incident dementia: A prospective cohort study." JAMA Internal Medicine, March, 2015. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.7663
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