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Suffering from seasickness is about as miserable a way as possible to spend your 'cruise of a lifetime'.

Happily, the chances are that at least one of the remedies listed in this article will spare you this misery.

 
 
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How to Cure Sea, Car, and other Motion Sickness

Choose from many different remedies
 


click for a larger size image

Cures for seasickness and other forms of motion sickness have been around for as long as the underlying cause has also been present.

But not all cures work, and some can have severe side-effects.

Part 2 of a 2 part series - part 1 discusses the different causes of seasickness/motion sickness in general, and how to minimize them.

Cures for seasickness seem to be one part urban legend, one part myth, another part quackery, one part 'mind over matter' and one part 'cure is worse than the disease'.

We strip out the nonsense, and tell you what you need to know and what you need to do.

May all your future trips be calm and comfortable.


Different Types of Seasickness Cures

There are plenty of different suggested remedies for being seasick and for motion sickness in general.

Basically they can be grouped into the following six categories :

  • Prescription medicines

  • Over the counter medicines

  • Homeopathic remedies

  • Other alternative medicine

  • Normal things that seem to help

  • Weird and wacky

Interestingly, almost all the different cures described below have been shown to work with some people, while also not working with others.  Even the least effective mainstream methods have at least halved the incidence of sea-sickness.

This may be the placebo affect at work - the curious but undeniable power of mind over matter, such that when you tell a person that something will cure them of their ailment, some people are cured, no matter what it is you give them.

Does this make any of the 'cures' less valid?  Absolutely not.  Find something that works for you, and then embrace it and grow comfortable with it as your solution.

There has been insufficient valid scientific testing of how well these cures work, and testing which has been done generally uses a revolving chair to mimic the motion experience - something that is in reality quite different from being on a boat/ship, or in a car, etc.

I've also found vague references to one study of about 1400 people at sea, which apparently determined that incidences of sea-sickness dropped from about 80% of people taking no medication to 20% when people were using one of the prescription or non-prescription medicines below.

Try Before You Go

If you're considering one of the prescription or non-prescription medicines that sometimes have associated side-effects, we suggest you should try it before you go.

That way you have a chance to see how strong the side-effects may be.  You won't know how effective the anti-motion sickness properties are, but at least you'll know if you can live with the side-effects or not.

Prescription Medicines

One of the problems with taking medicine orally (ie swallowing it) is that if you're sick, you may vomit up most of the medicine.  These two prescription medicines will avoid that issue, because neither needs to be swallowed.

Both need a doctor's prescription.

The Patch

Commonly referred to as 'the Patch', the Transderm-Scop patch is placed behind your ear, and worn for up to 72 hours at a time.  After 72 hours you replace it with another one if necessary, and it is suggested you alternate patches, one on your left side then one on the right side.

The active ingredient in the patch is absorbed through the skin.  It takes up to four hours for a full dose to be initially absorbed, so for best results, put a patch on at least four hours before you'll need it.

The active ingredient is scopolamine - the same drug that is used, in much larger doses, as a 'truth serum', and a derivative of belladonna poison.  Nasty stuff!

The good news is the Patch is highly effective.  But you may experience side-effects, ranging from minor things like a dry mouth, to more unpleasant things such as sedation, difficulty urinating, and blurred vision.  The blurred vision seems to affect the eye on the same side of your face as the patch more than the other eye - so if you have a weak and a strong eye, put the patch on the side of your face with your weak eye.

Some people have reported hallucinations, and of course, worst of all, there's always a danger you might experience an uncontrollable urge to start telling the truth!

You may also sometimes experience withdrawal symptoms when stopping using the patch - symptoms including dizziness, headache, nausea and poor coordination.

The Patch is not recommended for children, the elderly, or for pregnant or breast-feeding women.

Notwithstanding the side-effects mentioned above, the Patch is a popular and commonly used medication, because it does work very effectively, and is generally rated as better than Dramamine.  Reader Suzanne is one of its converts, and writes

As one of the unlucky who gets sea sick on boats, I found that wearing a patch behind my ear works perfectly.  It was the difference between night and day.

I never get sick on domestic flights, even going to Hawaii is a cinch for me. But going overseas I get sick, I think because the flight is long and the undulation sets it up. The second  time I went I wore a patch and bingo, no sickness.

I found out about them when I went boating in a 60 foot boat all around SF Bay, even went to the island behind Alcatraz and stayed in the boat to eat lunch. The person who invited me wore them for motion sickness and gave me one. When we returned to SF the water was very choppy but did not faze me at all. I SWEAR by them now.

First time I wore one it made the eye closest to the ear it was behind a little out of focus. But on the third time, I did not have any more of that symptom. It does make your mouth somewhat dry, as well, but that goes away w/in an hour of removing it. When I went to London the first time, w/ in 2 hours, I was sick the whole way. Same thing coming back. When I went wearing a patch, I was just ducky. I ate,, I drank, no problems.

These are worth ANY side effect.

Phenergan Suppositories

There's always a certain amount of yuckiness associated with the thought of suppositories, but if you're seriously unwell and vomiting, this is probably the only way to administer some heavy-duty medicine that will put you right.

These are best used only in the case of severe seasickness and vomiting.  They will almost certainly cause major drowsiness, but that is probably preferable to how you'd otherwise be feeling.

Other drugs

There are various other drugs occasionally prescribed for seasickness (including orally administered scopolamine), but all of these are, to a greater or a lesser extent, fairly powerful drugs.  Our own preference is to entirely avoid such things if possible, and you too might prefer to try the milder remedies in the sections below before turning to heavy-duty products requiring a doctor's prescription.

Over the Counter Medicines

Over the counter medicines are primarily anti-histamine type products best known in the form of Dramamine and its various related products.

These medications reduce the dizziness and the nausea associated with seasickness, but all seem to bring about some degree of sleepiness, ranging from mild drowsiness to severe sleepiness and lethargy.

A key feature of these medications is that it takes time for them to be absorbed and to take effect.  You should start taking them two hours before you need them.

Dramamine is available in both a regular (with dimenhydrinate as its active ingredient) and a less-drowsy formulation (with meclizine as the active ingredient).  Bonine and Antivert are also meclizine based and so are similar to the less drowsy Dramamine.

Benadryl is a diphenhydramine based product, and is similar to Dramamine.

Other products, more common outside of the US, include Marezine (cyclizine) and Stugeron (cinnarizine).  Both seem to be less sleep inducing than original Dramamine and perhaps better than Dramamine-2 (the less drowsy meclizine derivative).

Homeopathic Remedies

Homeopathic medicine is growing in popularity, and while some people automatically reject anything that isn't the result of millions of dollars of research and exclusively produced by the major drug companies, the ancient arts of homeopathy seems to be based on underlying valuable benefits.

Various different homeopathic substances can help with seasickness, and the two main homeopathic products offered to combat seasickness are each a combined mixture of the various active ingredients.

I have no idea which of these two products might be better.  I can say that the Trip Ease people also make the No-Jet-Lag product which seems to work well, so perhaps my inclination would be to try that first, but choose whichever seems more suited to your preference.

Trip Ease

Made in my home country of New Zealand by the same people who make NoJetLag, this product is a mix of six different homeopathic ingredients, described on their website.

A pack of 32 tablets costs $9.85 and is available through Pro Travel Gear.

Sea Sik Oral Spray

This product is a mix of seven different homeopathic ingredients, and is administered by spraying under your tongue.  It is well described and explained on this web page.

A 30 ml bottle is $14 and available through the link above.

Other Alternative Medicine

Acupuncture - or more accurately, acupressure - is another approach to healing once derided in the west, but which is now finding growing acceptance.

This field of study believes that pressure applied to the P6 or nei kuan point will reduce the sensation of nausea from any/all causes.  This point is located about an inch up the inside of your arm from the crease between your hand and arm.

Pressure is most commonly applied to this point via a band of some type, and there are now three different styles of bands.

Studies have tended to confirm that bands can definitely help reduce seasickness, although there has been quite a variation in displayed effectiveness.  This might be due to how accurately people place the bands on the appropriate pressure point.  The more pressure the better, it seems.

Because acupressure bands relieve all types of nausea, they are often used by pregnant women to prevent morning sickness as well.

I asked John McManus, founder of Magellan's, for his thoughts on bands, being as how his company sells an enormous number of them.  He replied

My thoughts on those motion-sensitive bands used to be “pretty weird concept”.

When we went to press with our first catalog (October 1989), I decided not to include a band product.  Sounded a little “far out” for Magellan’s, although I made a note to myself that as soon as we were up and running, I’d see if I couldn’t find some way to test it out.

That opportunity came pretty quickly. My wife’s sister has a daughter with a lovely 28' wooden boat, but the sister couldn’t set foot on it, even when it was at the dock. Her breakfast would come up if she even looked at a body of water.  So I gave her a sample pair of Sea Bands and “the rest is history”.  I couldn’t believe how well they worked for her.

Was it just the power of suggestion? Might have been, since I really can’t point to any true scientific study (blind, control-group, etc.) that satisfied me 100%.  But I got to thinking that even if it was (or is), if enough people really felt better, why not make them available (complete with a promise of a full refund if they didn’t work for them)?

I do know the bands have fewer side-effects than dry-mouth-inducing patches, Dramamine, or other “remedies.” And they seem to be on the wrists of most cruise-ship passengers nowadays.

At any rate, we placed them in the 1990 catalog. Since then, they've been steady sellers, with only about a 3% return rate.

So file these comments under “unscientific” but for what it’s worth, we can point to a lot of people who feel better with these bands in place.

Regular acupressure bands

The original acupressure band was the Seaband, which is still available in some places.  These days the leading 'regular' band seems to be the BioBand, which is more comfortable and adjustable.

They are $12.85 each from Magellan's (and don't forget John's 100% satisfaction guarantee, in case you're one of the 3% who find the band doesn't work well for you).

Magnetic acupressure bands

The Magna Band or other bands that have a magnet in them sound very much like a gadget rather than bona fide added value medical device to me.

The magnet probably won't do any harm, but I'm aware of no studies that show the magnet adds to the relief of the band.

They are available, two for $25, here.

Electric acupressure bands

The ReliefBand also sounds gimmicky, although they offer a bit more pseudo-science to back up their claim of effectiveness.

The band is worn in the same place as a regular band, but a battery delivers a pulsed mild electric shock to your arm (you adjust the level until your fingers mildly tingle) which supposedly helps to calm your stomach.

Batteries last about 150 hours and are replaceable.  The unit is priced at $89 and is available from Magellan's.

Overall, as John noted above, bands of one form or another seem to work very well for the vast majority of travelers, and have the benefit (particularly with the regular Bioband) of not introducing any drugs or chemicals or anything into your body.  The last comment on bands goes to reader Veronica :

After a lifetime of sea sickness I discovered a cure by accident.

In 2002 after attending my Aunt's 100th birthday, we took the ferry from Portsmouth to St. Malo. Having forgotten sea sick pills we stopped at the small convenience store just before we boarded to buy some pills for the trip. The young woman there said they were out of stock for such pills but she recommended the "bands".

I thought - well this is going to be a waste of money, however, once on the vessel, my partner who was a nurse before she was an attorney read the directions in detail.  She placed the bands carefully on our wrists as per directions, that is: two fingers above the wrist bone - kind of a weird spot.  We then went to dinner and had a spanking French meal and retired to our cabin. So far, so good.

When my partner hopped into the shower, she said, Let me give you my bands to hold while I shower.  Fast shower because she said, hurry give me back the bands I am starting to feel queasy.  I did the same - hurried shower and back to the bands on the wrist.  No discomfort whatever and I am a person who was formerly and consistently miserably sea sick.

I found a cure.

MotionEaze

Another product, not really a homeopathic remedy, is MotionEaze.  This is a liquid that you dab behind your ears, in a manner vaguely reminiscent of the Patch.  But the liquid is not scopolamine.  Instead they say it is a proprietary blend of herbal oils including Birch, Chamomile, Frankincense, Lavender, Myrrh, Peppermint and Ylang-Ylang.

We're unaware of any studies to support their claims of effectiveness, and our own opinion of the product (which we've never tried) nosedived when we read their page suggesting that, if you're feeling sea-sick, you should avoid looking at the horizon and perhaps read a book instead!  This advice contradicts that offered by almost everyone else, and also clearly contradicts our own experience of what makes us feel ill and what makes us feel better.

A bottle costs $16 and has enough liquid for 40 applications.

If you've used MotionEaze, please let us know how it worked for you.

Update, April 05 :  Nick writes in from Hawaii :

I carried a bottle of Motioneaze around with me for about a year in various situations on boats with people who weren’t used to being on boats. I never needed to use it on myself but did let several other people try it, and most of them reported that it did indeed work, though only temporarily (30 minutes or so) before it required another application.

I think the big advantage of it is that it can be applied right in the middle of a full-blown episode of seasickness and have an instantaneous relieving effect (or at least it has relieved the people who I’ve given it to). It also smells good!

Interestingly enough I emailed a celebrity spokesperson for MotionEaze (who shall remain nameless) before I purchased the bottle to ask him if it really worked. He said it did indeed work, but that for long outings he and his crew took Bonine and then used the MotionEaze as an instant backup if the Bonine started to fail them. Bonine is working best for me at the moment too.

I would buy MotionEaze again though, if for no other reason than being able to offer some hope of relief to people in the miserable throes of motion sickness.

Update, May 07 :  Kathleen in WA writes :

I've tried Dramamine, the bands, ginger but none of them work for me anymore.  A friend told me about MotionEaze saying it really worked for her, so I tried it.  It worked great, and the effects lasted through a 4 hour drive.

Normal Things that seem to Help

There are many ordinary foods which may help.

Ginger

Perhaps the most common normal thing that many people claim works well for them is ginger root (Zingiber officinale).  Whether you eat pure ginger root, crystallized ginger, ginger tablets, ginger tea, or ginger cookies, ginger seems to help calm people's stomachs and reduce their susceptibility to sea-sickness.

You only need to take a very little, but because ginger is natural, you're welcome to take as much more as you wish.  About 1 gram (1/28th of an ounce) of powdered ginger has been shown effective against motion sickness in double-blind studies.  In Germany, up to 4 grams per day is recommended.

Best of all, there are no side-effects from taking ginger.

Ginger is an aromatic bitter (see below) and is generally credited with improving the digestive process.  A 1982 study found that ginger was better than Dramamine for preventing seasickness.  Subsequent studies have tended to confirm that ginger provides effective relief from motion sickness.

Like medications, you should take ginger prior to experiencing the sickness causing event.

Soda Crackers/Saltines

Soda crackers are recommended by some people - the soda crackers both soak up any excess liquid in your stomach and also it is suggested that the alkaline soda in the crackers neutralizes any excess stomach acid.

This suggestion is probably nonsense - the small amount of alkali in the cracker is dwarfed by the amount of acid in your stomach, but perhaps eating pieces of ginger on soda crackers is a great way to adopt two strategies at the same time, while also enjoying some food.

Coca-Cola

Some people suggest that Coca-Cola is helpful, although it contains caffeine, which some people suggest is harmful, and of course it is also a liquid, and you don't want too much liquid sloshing around in your stomach.

Being as how Coca-Cola was originally developed as a patent medicine, it is perhaps not impossible that it has some palliative effect.

You need to walk a fine line between staying hydrated and having too much liquid in your stomach.

Bitters

Another liquid that supposedly has near miraculous powers is bitters.  An article in Cruising World some years back reputedly surveyed various types of bitters and found the best is Italian Fernet Branca, followed closely by Angostura.

Take a tablespoon or two, mixed in half a glass of water, and expect to get nearly immediate beneficial results.

Other Foods

Other foodstuffs that are credited with alleviating sea-sickness include mint, citrus, apricot juice, carrot juice, unroasted pumpkin or squash seeds, parsley, and peppermint tea.

Weird and Wacky

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy has been suggested as a way to counter the affects of seasickness.  For sure, bad aromas can hasten the onset of nausea and vomiting, but whether you can create a 'good aroma' and surround yourself sufficiently in it may be difficult to achieve.

Oils of mandarin, peppermint, spearmint and lavender are recommended, both added to boiling water and, after diluting with massage oil, rubbed into hands and feet.  Effects are said to last for 24 to 48 hours.

I've read one report by a person who found this very effective, but the report was lacking in specifics about the proportions of each oil, so if you're a proponent of aromatherapies, and can conveniently create the environment for administering such relief, you'll need to do some more research.

Royal Made Ping an Dan

Royal Made Ping an Dan (PAD) sounds very unusual, and perhaps it is.  It is a Chinese remedy that dates back to the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911) when it was made for members of the Royal Household.

Two recent Chinese clinical studies have shown it to be as effective, or perhaps more effective than Dramamine.  That is the good news.  The not so good news is that I've not found anywhere that sells it.

If you know of a source, or have any more details about what it is made from, please let me know.

Artificial Horizon Glasses

Another weird and wacky approach is to wear glasses with always level horizons on them.  The theory, as per the inventor's website, is that this way you can always see a steady horizon, even if the boat is moving.

Sounds unlikely to us, but who knows; although no medical research is offered to support their claims.

And at €99 ($130) you'd have to be pretty sure of them working before buying a pair.  Let us know if you try these.

Summary and Recommendation

So, how best to avoid motion sickness?  The answers are spread through both this and the first part of this article.

Try to minimize the situation that could cause motion sickness in the first place, and make use of one - or more than one - of the remedies suggested in this second part, and in a timely manner before you start to feel unwell.

Although some people like the patch, and even though it is probably the most certain medical remedy, we just find the idea of slowly dosing ourselves with 'truth serum' completely unappealing.  Who knows what we might not inadvertently say over dinner.

Dramamine makes us uncontrollably drowsy.

Eating ginger biscuits is a painless and pleasant strategy.

We'd probably back this up with a band and or a homeopathic remedy.

There's no reason not to adopt a multi-layered defense.  So we'll be the person resolutely standing out on deck staring ahead through the artificial horizon glasses, while eating ginger biscuits and saltine crackers, drinking coca-cola and Angostura bitters, wearing bands on both wrists, and taking Trip Ease pills every hour.

At least we won't be in the rest-room making a call on the great white porcelain telephone.

Lastly, if all else fails, cling to the thought that, eventually, you'll get your 'sea legs' and will get better all by yourself.

Read more in Part 1

In Part 1 we discuss the different causes of seasickness/motion sickness in general, and how to use this knowledge to minimize their affects.

 

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Originally published 18 Mar 2005, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 
 

 


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