How to Handle Seasickness

For many people, the mere thought of seasickness makes them queasy. Some may wonder if they just weren’t born to be seafaring explorers. The truth is, seasickness can happen to anyone — including seasoned sea captains. The good news is, there are many ways to cure seasickness. Here are some easy ways to beat seasickness if it takes hold of you:

  • Get fresh air.
  • Focus on the horizon.
  • Take slow, deep breaths.
  • Think positive thoughts and try to relax.
  • Take an over-the-counter medication for motion sickness.
  • Eat ginger.

In this post, we’ll look at more ways to treat seasickness, and we’ll cover how to keep it from happening in the first place. We’ll also answer common questions. If you love to travel by boat, try not to let seasickness deter you. Great explorers never drop their oars — they just know how to prepare.

What Is Seasickness?

Seasickness is a common problem people experience while traveling by boat. It happens when your inner ear and your eyes send conflicting messages to your brain. If you get seasick, you might suddenly feel queasy and break out in cold sweats. It can lead to nausea, dizziness and ultimately vomiting.

Is Seasickness the Same as Motion Sickness?

Yes, seasickness and motion sickness are the same thing. People use the term seasickness to describe motion sickness that occurs while traveling on water. Motion sickness can happen anywhere, but it is more common on a boat.

What Causes Seasickness?

When your inner ear, muscles and joints sense movement, but your eyes see stillness, your brain becomes confused. This confusion can lead to nausea, dizziness and other symptoms of motion sickness. For example, imagine sitting on a cruise ship while reading a book when the ship hits rough water. Your body will sense the movement of the waves, but your eyes will be focusing on the motionless book. This phenomenon doesn’t match up as something your brain is used to, so it may make you feel seasick.

Why Are Some People Prone to Seasickness?

Why some people get seasick and others do not is somewhat of a mystery. There are many different theories to explain motion sickness susceptibility. However, scientists think sensitivity to motion sickness may run in families, and that gender determines how severely it affects you. Seasickness vulnerability may also be something an individual acquires or loses. For example, children are often more prone to motion sickness, but they seem to outgrow it once they reach a certain age. Likewise, some athletes, like ice skaters, are less likely to experience motion sickness. Think of how ice skaters can twirl without losing balance or getting dizzy. That implies you can train to avoid motion sickness.

Thomas Stoffregen, a professor at the University of Minnesota, theorizes women may be more prone to motion sickness because they sway differently than men. Stoffregen conducted a study that involved inducing motion sickness using oscillating visuals. As a result of the study, 9 percent of men reported feeling sick, while 38 percent of women experienced motion sickness.

Some researchers think genes may cause sensitivity to motion sickness. For example, scientists at Penn State University studied motion sickness in students of Asian, African-American and Caucasian-American descent. They found 80 percent of Asian students experienced motion sickness, while under half of African-American and Caucasian-American students felt sick.

Age may also play a factor in seasickness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states adults over age 50 seem to be less sensitive to motion sickness.

Despite the causes, the following individuals are at increased risk of getting seasick:

  • Children between the ages of 2 and 12
  • Women
  • Individuals of Asian descent
  • Those who suffer from migraines
  • People taking certain medications

Nevertheless, anyone with a functioning vestibular system can suffer from seasickness.

What Are the Symptoms of Motion Sickness?

According to the CDC, symptoms of motion sickness include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Cold sweats
  • Salivating
  • Hyperventilating
  • Heightened sensitivity to odors
  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drowsiness and yawning
  • Apathy
  • Overall discomfort
  • Dizziness

Seasickness does not always manifest as nausea and a spinning head. Some people don’t vomit or feel nauseated at all from motion sickness, and instead get extremely tired. This variety of motion sickness is called sopite syndrome. Sopite syndrome symptoms include:

  • Yawning
  • Drowsiness
  • Not wanting to work or participate in activities

Does Seasickness Go Away?

Yes, seasickness does subside, even without treatment, usually as soon as the motion stops or shortly after. Sometimes, changing activities can ease symptoms. For example, if you start to feel sick while looking at a menu on a cruise ship, step out on the exterior deck and focus on the horizon. Doing so may help your symptoms subside before they get worse.

How Long Does Seasickness Last?

According to Stoffregen, seasickness usually goes away within 36 hours. After that point, most people adjust to the motion of the sea and can walk steadily without feeling sick. However, if it takes a little longer to get your sea legs, you can try different treatments to make the adjustment much more tolerable.

What Are Natural Remedies for Seasickness?

There are tons of easy ways to naturally relieve the “plague at sea.” Effective natural remedies include:

  • Practice deep breathing exercises.
  • Consume ginger in the form of lozenges, candies, tablets, crystallized root or ginger ale.
  • Face the same direction you’re heading.
  • Stare at the horizon.
  • Get fresh air.
  • Nibble on saltine crackers or another light snack to help ease nausea.
  • Take your mind off seasickness symptoms and talk with someone or listen to relaxing music.
  • Inhale an essential oil like lavender, ginger or peppermint.
  • Sip cold water or a caffeine-free carbonated beverage.
  • Stand up if you feel queasy.
  • Avoid smoking and secondhand smoke.
  • Eat peppermint.

Another way to naturally treat motion sickness is to apply pressure to an acupressure point located on your wrist. The pressure point called nei guan (P6) can successfully relieve nausea and motion sickness. You’ll find it about one and a half inches below the inner wrist between the two tendons. To ease nausea, apply pressure or massage the area on one or both wrists for four to five seconds.

What Is the Best Medicine for Seasickness?

Over-the-counter motion sickness pills and prescription medications can prevent and treat seasickness. Antihistamines, for example, are a common remedy to treat motion sickness. Here are a few recommended over-the-counter medicines for motion sickness:

  • Meclizine, such as Antivert or Bonine
  • Dimenhydrinate, such as Dramamine
  • Diphenhydramine, such as Benadryl

These medications may make you feel drowsy, but they should help prevent or relieve symptoms. Nonsedating antihistamines, on the other hand, won’t make you sleepy, but they are also not an effective treatment for motion sickness.

You might also talk with your doctor before your cruise about prescription medication to prevent seasickness. A common prescription medication includes scopolamine. Scopace, which is a brand name of scopolamine, comes in tablet form. Transderm Scop is scopolamine in the form of a skin patch. To use the Transderm Scop patch, you will apply the patch to the skin behind your ear. The patch can help prevent motion sickness for up to three days.

It’s important to consider the side effects of these medications, such as dry mouth and drowsiness, before boarding your ship. Also, consider certain medications may not be safe for individuals with heart problems or glaucoma. Talk with your doctor to find the best seasickness treatment for you.

What Medications Can Cause Seasickness?

Some medications may make you more prone to seasickness or exacerbate symptoms. These include:

  • Birth control pills
  • Any medicine containing estrogen
  • Over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen and naproxen
  • Narcotic pain medications
  • Some antibiotics like erythromycin
  • Heart medications like digoxin
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
  • Aminophylline used to treat asthma
  • Bisphosphonates used for treating osteoporosis

Any medication could potentially lead to motion sickness or make it worse, so talk to your doctor about your options. Your doctor can help you choose a different time to take your medicine, or tell you if it’s safe to skip a dose.

Tips for Preventing Motion Sickness While on a Cruise Ship

The best thing you can do to treat seasickness is to prevent it from happening. Prevention is almost always easier than curing an ailment. As you’ll see, many of these strategies are simple and might make the difference between smooth sailing or a turbulent ride. Here’s how to prepare for your journey at sea while keeping motion sickness at bay.

  • Sail calm waters: If you know you’re especially sensitive to seasickness, consider taking a cruise where the water is usually calm, such as the Caribbean. However, keep in mind the Caribbean can be rough sometimes too, like during hurricane season. Aim to cruise the Caribbean during December through May if possible.
  • Reserve the right cabin: Try to reserve a cabin in the center of a ship with a window. Also, aim to book a lower-level cabin, where there is less motion.
  • Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water before you head out on your voyage. Dehydration could invite motion sickness symptoms. If you happen to get seasick, you’ll feel a lot less ill if you drank plenty of water beforehand.
  • Get sleep: Make sure to get plenty of rest before you go on your cruise. Lack of sleep could make you more susceptible to motion sickness.
  • Avoid an empty stomach: Aim to keep something in your stomach at all times, without overstuffing yourself. Eat a solid meal before you board, and snack throughout the day on non-spicy, non-greasy foods like apples, crackers or granola bars.
  • Avoid alcohol: You might be tempted to celebrate your departure the night before, but it would be best to avoid alcohol 24 hours before you set sail. A hangover will not help prevent motion sickness. Also, alcohol has dehydrating effects.
  • Take medication: Many motion sickness medications require you to take them before you get on the ship. Read the package instructions and take the recommended dose before you leave. If you’ve never been on the medication before, you may want to test it out a week or so before your journey to see how it makes you feel.
  • Pack ginger: Many sources say you’ll want to bring ginger with you on your cruise. Ginger is one of the best natural remedies for seasickness and an upset stomach. Make sure to stock up on some form of ginger before you leave dry land.
  • Visit your doctor: It might be a good idea to visit your doctor before you get on a cruise ship. Your doctor can recommend an over-the-counter or prescription medication that’s right for you. They will also help you determine the best treatment for you if you do get sick.
  • Stay positive: Even if you are concerned about seasickness, try to develop a positive mindset before your voyage. Convince yourself you will not get sick, and take appropriate preventive measures. Expecting to get sick may increase the chance you will. If you start to feel seasick while on the cruise ship, still try to tell yourself you are not sick.

Imagine you did everything you could to prevent seasickness. Then, you start to feel queasy as you think about seasickness while on the ship. There’s no need to panic. Here are ways to prevent seasickness after you set sail:

  • Keep your mind busy.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Avoid others who have motion sickness.
  • Wear an acupuncture wristband to suppress nausea.
  • Get as much fresh air as possible.
  • Stay in the middle of the boat.
  • Avoid spicy, greasy, high-fat foods and try to stick to a mostly bland diet.
  • Avoid reading or focusing your eyes on a phone, computer or any stationary object until you adjust.
  • Take deep, slow breaths from your belly if you start to feel nauseated.
  • Avoid rapid head movement.
  • Keep your eyes on the horizon.
  • If you notice an odor, move away from it and get fresh air.
  • Eat lightly and avoid overindulging.

If nothing works and you still get seasick, hang in there. You should get your sea legs within a day or two. Therefore, even if the world feels like it’s spinning out of control, before you know it, you’ll be enjoying your seafaring adventure without a care.

Sail With Windstar Cruises

Seasickness is something we’d all rather avoid. However, there’s no need to hold yourself back from feeling the briny breeze on your skin, free from stress and responsibilities as you head to some of the most breathtaking destinations on the planet. Traveling on a cruise ship is an unforgettable way to experience colorful ports around the world and enjoy the captivating mystery of the deep blue sea.

Are you ready to grow your sea legs and experience traveling in the footsteps of the world’s greatest explorers? Find your next cruise right here with Windstar Cruises. Our exclusive, small cruise ships take you to ports the big ships can’t reach. You’ll get opportunities to explore hidden gems around the globe, as well as visit world-famous sites. Contact us to learn more or book your cruise today!

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