Ask the Doctors

Dear Doctor: I'm going sailing with friends soon. Since I tend to get motion sickness in cars and airplanes, I'm worried that means I'll get seasick as well. Are there any natural remedies?

Dear Reader: If it helps at all, you're far from alone. A large portion of the population suffers some degree of motion sickness during travel. The most common effects -- dizziness, nausea, even vomiting -- are sure to ruin your day. For some people, additional symptoms like cold sweats, a throbbing headache or a bout of anxiety only deepen the misery.

The culprit in motion sickness is believed to be (scientists still aren't sure) the disconnect between what your eyes see and what the sensitive mechanism in your inner ear, which controls balance, feels.

When you walk or run or twist or bend down, those structures in your inner ear, known as the vestibular system, are in sync with what your eyes are telling you. You are moving, but the ground you stand on is not.

On a boat, however, your eyes and your inner ear are sending seriously mixed messages to your brain. Your eyes know you are sitting still, but according to your vestibular system, you're in motion. For reasons that are still unclear, it is this sensory disconnect that lights up pathways in the brain, causing the symptoms of motion sickness. And all you want is relief.

Some sufferers rely on antihistamines such as Dramamine, an over-the-counter medication, which can control nausea and vomiting. Prescription medications, including the Transderm Scop patch and promethazine, can also help with the symptoms of seasickness. But these medications can have side effects such as dry mouth or drowsiness.

Since you want to go the natural route, let's take a look at your options.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, simple behaviors can give you a leg up. Stay hydrated, skip the beer and cocktails, don't drink any caffeine and limit eating to small meals. If possible, gaze out at a fixed point on the horizon. This lets your brain confirm the input that it's getting from your eyes and your inner ear -- yep, you're definitely in motion. (For people who tend to get carsick, riding in the front seat can help in the same way.)

As for natural remedies, a lot of travelers swear by ginger, which has been shown to ease nausea associated with motion sickness. You can find ginger in powdered form in many natural food stores and pharmacies. Dramamine also offers what it says is a clinically tested full dose of powdered ginger, packaged in a single capsule. Candied ginger and ginger tea are also options.

Although there is conflicting evidence over its effectiveness, acupressure has its proponents. In this method, constant pressure is applied to the insides of the wrists via special elastic wristbands.

When you do find an effective natural cure, there's a bonus. You're now prepared for the latest frontier in motion sickness -- virtual reality!

(Eve Glazier, M.D., MBA, is an internist and assistant professor of medicine at UCLA Health. Elizabeth Ko, M.D., is an internist and primary care physician at UCLA Health.)

(Send your questions to askthedoctors@mednet.ucla.edu, or write: Ask the Doctors, c/o Media Relations, UCLA Health, 924 Westwood Blvd., Suite 350, Los Angeles, CA, 90095.)

More like Ask the Doctors