| Lea Sibbel |
HAMBURG, Germany (dpa) – When someone white as a sheet with a greenish cast about the nose is seen rushing to the ship’s rail, fellow passengers need no explanation. An offering is about to be made to the deity of seasickness.
The malady is nothing to worry about, though, reassures Dr Martin Dirksen-Fischer, head of the Hamburg Port Health Centre in Germany: “It will pass.”
Nine people in 10 are thought to become seasick at some time in their life, he pointed out, so there’s no reason to be ashamed if a ship’s motions make you nauseous. Known medically as kinetosis, or motion sickness, the condition can also strike during travel in buses, cars, trains or airplanes.
Seasickness is caused by a “sensory mismatch”, explained Dr Andreas Koch, an instructor at Germany’s Naval Institute of Maritime Medicine.
What passengers see in their cabin, namely a rigid room, doesn’t match what they’re feeling, namely wave movement. The eyes and the vestibular system in the inner ear, which monitors movement and helps control balance, send conflicting signals to the brain.
“The body doesn’t tolerate a discrepancy like that very well,” Dirksen-Fischer said.
This results initially in general discomfort. Burping, a feeling of pressure, pallor and fatigue are also typical symptoms of the first phase of seasickness, noted Christian Ottomann, CEO of Medical Ship Management, a Germany-based placement agency for ships’ doctors.
“Then comes nausea,” said Ottomann, who served as a ship’s doctor himself for a year.
As Koch describes it, the conflicting sensory impressions are stressful for the body, which reacts by secreting stress hormones, one of which is histamine. High histamine levels lead to nausea and vomiting, he said, so antihistamines – usually in tablet form or contained in chewing gum – are prescribed for seasickness.
Another drug used to treat seasickness is scopolamine, which is extracted from plants including henbane and jimson weed. Koch said it had a mild sedative effect and relieved nausea.
A natural remedy that’s often recommended for seasickness is ginger, which is thought to act on the brain’s vomiting centre, Koch said.
Besides substances to take, there are things to do. Ottomann advises positioning oneself in the direction of the ship’s motions: towards the bow or stern during pitching, and port or starboard during rolling.
Relaxation techniques can help as well. Lying down and sleeping reduces sensory confusion and lowers stress levels, Koch said.
As for acupressure, he said there was no scientific proof of its effectiveness in relieving seasickness.
“A little faith helps too,” Dirksen-Fischer added, because simply worrying about getting seasick can make you a little queasy.
Certain things are best avoided – for instance reading, which Ottomann said could intensify discomfort. Further risk factors include unpleasant odours, fatigue, a lack of sleep, and histamine-rich foods such as tuna and salami.
For people who have never been on a cruise and don’t know whether they’re prone to seasickness, Dirksen-Fischer suggests taking a mini-cruise first.
“You can’t anticipate everything, but some things you can,” he said.
Even if signs of seasickness appear on a “test” cruise, travellers can embark on a major one with a couple of reassuring thoughts,
Koch said: The body usually acclimates to the ship’s motions after two or three days, and many modern cruise vessels have stabilisers that minimise them.