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Preventing and treating seasickness
It Can Happen to Anyone…
• Anyone can get seasick. It won't kill you, but for a while you
may wish it would.
• If you've had motion sickness before, plan ahead and take
an OTC drug before embarking. Or get a prescription for
The English words "nautical" and "nausea" derive
brain incorrectly interprets the distress caused by
scopolamine or another powerful antiemetic (antinausea) drug.
from the same Greek root naus = ship, and for good
this motion as the result of poisoning, and causes
• Use an alternative remedy, if you think it will work.
reason. People have been getting seasick for
stomach disturbance leading to vomiting.
• If you take a drug you have not had before, "test drive" it
thousands of years.
Seasickness has two components: the dis-
ahead of time for eﬀectiveness and side eﬀects.
While seasickness is miserable and can be
tress (dizziness and nausea) experienced by
On the boat, position yourself to minimize the eﬀects of
debilitating, it can be prevented and even
the brain, and the stomach's reaction to it.
treated. Researchers at universities,
You can have one without the other. Folk
• If you start to get sick, be considerate of others. If a
companion gets sick, protect him/her from injury or falling
research institutes, and navies of
remedies that soothe the stomach do
overboard. Give ﬂuids.
many nations have studied seasick-
not stop the nausea's root cause, which
• If seasickness strikes, try the chew-but-don't-swallow
ness and motion sickness, and reliable
is in the brain.
technique to treat symptoms.
information from those studies is presented in this
Some believe that seasickness results
References for Further Reading
from a conﬂict between what the inner ear detects
Gahlinger, P.M., M.D. Ph.D. 1999. How to help your patients avoid travel travail. Postgraduate Medicine
and what the eyes see. If this were the whole prob-
Jacobs, M.E., M.D. 2001. Survival at sea: Seasickness. In: P.S. Auerbach (ed.), Wilderness medicine, 4th
What Is Seasickness?
lem, it could be prevented or cured by keeping an
edn. Harcourt Health Sciences Company, pp. 1530-1531.
Money, K.E., J.R. Lackner, and R.S. Cheung. 1996. The autonomic nervous system and motion sickness.
eye on the horizon outside the boat. This works for
In: B.J. Yates and A.D. Miller (eds.), Vestibular autonomic regulation. CRC Press, pp. 147-173.
Seasickness is an unpleasant condition that may
Onan, C. 1991. In search of a cure for seasickness. Cruising World, December.
some people, but not for the majority.
Scavone, J.M., B.G. Luna, J.S. Harmatz, L. von Moltke, and D.J. Greenblatt. 1990. Diphenhydramine
include dizziness, tiredness, acid stomach, and
kinetics following intravenous, oral, and sublingual dimenhydrinate administration. Biopharmaceutics and Drug Disposition 11(3):185-189. (Abstract accessible at http://www.ncbi.
nausea/vomiting. It usually comes from rhythmic
How to Predict Seasickness
Weinstein, S.E., and R.M. Stern. 1997. Comparison of Marezine and Dramamine in preventing
motion of sea waves. People rarely get seasick from
symptoms of motion sickness. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine 68(10):890-894.
Wood, C.D., Ph.D., and A. Graybiel, M.D. 1968. Evaluation of sixteen anti-motion sickness drugs under
bouncing as a small boat skips over the sea—it's the
Seasickness can strike anyone, including seasoned
controlled laboratory conditions. Aerospace Medicine 39:1341-1344.
slower motion of natural waves that does it.
professional mariners. Most people get over it in a
Written by Terry Johnson, Marine Advisory Agent, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Homer, Alaska
99603. NOAA National Sea Grant NA16RG2321, projects A/161-01 and A/152-20. UAF is an AA/EO
Seasickness occurs when the visual, vestibular
few days if they are at sea that long, but knowing
employer and educational institution.
(inner ear), and proprioceptor (receptors in the
this is little comfort if your ﬁshing trip is spoiled.
Alaska Sea Grant College Program
muscle and joints that signal locomotion and pos-
Try reading, while riding as a car passenger in stop-
University of Alaska Fairbanks
ture) systems are in conﬂict with each other or not
and-go traﬃc or on winding roads. If you get carsick
Fairbanks, Alaska 99775-5040
consistent with past experience. The subconscious
in this test, there's a good chance you'l get seasick.
dimenhydrinate or meclizine tablets. If you ﬁnd that you're starting to feel sick, take a couple of the tablets and chew but
To Prevent Seasickness
don't swallow. Instead, hold the "mush" under your tongue
or Ease Symptoms
Most over-the-counter (OTC) drugs for prevention of motion
or against the inside of your cheek, where the drug can be
sickness are based on antihistamines. They work by depressing
absorbed through the lining of the mouth. Research shows that
The night before:
the brain's emetic or vomiting center. They are moderately
the drug passes into the bloodstream, although it still takes a
eﬀective and have minimal side eﬀects, including drowsiness
couple of hours to reach full strength. Some suﬀerers report
• Eat and drink moderately.
and dry mouth.
excellent results from this approach.
• Take an advance dose of medicine (see "OTC Drugs" section).
Drugs based on meclizine (Bonine, Antivert, Dramamine II)
cause less drowsiness than the old standard drug,
The morning of the voyage:
dimenhydrinate (original Dramamine, Triptone, Gravol).
Common Medications for
• Eat only a light breakfast, avoiding rich or fatty foods.
Diphenhydramine (Benadryl), an antihistamine also used as a
Alternative, Folk, and
Go easy on the coﬀee.
sleeping pill, can cause signiﬁcant drowsiness.
• Take a second dose of drugs.
Over the countera
Many people don't want to use drugs to prevent or cure
Using OTC Drugs Effectively
On the boat:
seasickness, so they use alternatives. Most of these alternatives
Tablet, chewable, liquid
have not proven eﬀective in clinical trials, but some users report
Most dimenhydrinate- and meclizine-based drugs are sold as
• Take a position with a good outside view, low and near the
pills or as chewable tablets. They should be taken at least two
center of the boat if possible.
hours before boarding so the drug can go through the digestive
Avoid smells of exhaust, fuel, the galley, and the head (toilet).
Ginger, as powdered or candied root, cookies, tea, or ginger
ale, soothes the stomach of many suﬀerers.
system and into the bloodstream. A person already nauseous
• Avoid reading or work requiring close-up focus (like
• Acupressure, on the nei kuan or precordial #6 position
or vomiting will get no beneﬁt because the
drug will be expelled in the next bout of
on the inside of the wrist, prevents nausea in many people.
Move around and get fresh air.
vomiting, or will be trapped in the stressed
Elastic wristbands with plastic beads that press on the wrist
digestive system. OTC drugs are useful
• Avoid alcohol and tobacco.
are sold for this purpose.
for preventing seasickness, but not for
• An electronic device that resembles a wristwatch and sends
If you start feeling sick:
a mild, user-variable, electric current into the wrist (at the nei
It is essential to get the drug into
• Acknowledge the situation and tell the captain or crew.
kuan position) can prevent seasickness or stop it after it has
your system in a suﬃcient amount,
• Avoid going below or into enclosed spaces
which varies with a person's size and
Tablet, capsule, liquid
There's no harm in trying alternative remedies, and they may
body chemistry. Some people need to
If you think you're going to throw up:
be all you need. But most seasick-prone people need drugs to
exceed the recommended dose, while
• Vomit over the side, on the downwind side, or in the head.
prevent the symptoms.
others cut it in half. Further, some OTCs lose eﬀectiveness in 4-6
hours. You might want to "test drive" a drug ahead of time (well
Be considerate of others on the boat.
• Many people feel much better after vomiting.
before you go boating) for eﬀectiveness and side eﬀects.
A second component of drug eﬀectiveness is faith in the
If your companions are seasick:
drug. Studies show that as much as 40% of all seasickness can
The transdermal scopolamine patch, sold by prescription, is very
be alleviated by the belief that the drug is eﬀective, even if the
• Protect them from injury or falling overboard.
popular among recreational boaters and professional mariners. For
patient has taken a sugar pill (placebo) instead of the real thing.
Prescription drug combinations
• Encourage them to drink water or sport
most people the side eﬀects are minimal, the patch is convenient,
Scopolamine + dextroamphetaminef
drinks to avoid dehydration and to keep
and it lasts up to three days. Scopolamine works wel for most
Promethazine + ephedrine or
people, but should be used only under a doctor's supervision.
up essential electrolytes. Children are
Here's Something to Try
especially susceptible to dehydration.
Most other prescription drugs for seasickness are used
Too often people don't think they will get seasick until they get
only by the severely aﬀected. They are taken as a pill, injection,
May also be available
c Antivert is a prescription f Dexedrine is
suppository, syrup, or salve. Some are quite potent, and side
out on the water, and then it's too late to take an OTC drug as
d Dramamine II causes
a preventative. If you're one of those, here's something you can
eﬀects can be serious or even life-threatening.
Gravol is not available in less drowsiness.
try. Next time you go out, take along a package of chewable
e Cinnarizine is not
available in the U.S.
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