July 15, 2012

The scourge of seasickness

ANYONE WHO SUFFERS from seasickness knows that it’s not just a matter of vomiting.  What’s much worse is the feeling of doom and hopelessness, the dreadful despair that floods the brain, the certain knowledge that you will never recover from this vile disease until a slow and painful death releases you.

There is plenty of free advice about how to prevent seasickness, most of which doesn’t work, but the golden rules are to stay away from alcohol, greasy foods, and engine-room smells.  Keep warm and dry, stay on deck, keep busy if possible, and watch the horizon. And also stay away from the ends of the boat.

To which may be added: Take medications before sailing or the occurrence of rough weather. The general rules is to take them three hours in advance. If you wait until you actually feel sick it’s too late for the medicine’s prophylactic properties to take effect. Ginger, in soft drinks or cookies, is often said to help prevent sickness.

If you’d like to try a new drug, check with your doctor first. Different drugs seem to be effective for different people.  And try it out on land first, to see what the side-effects are, if any. 

Seasickness occurs less frequently for most people when they lie down. The second-best position is standing upright, legs slightly apart, without holding on to anything—provided, of course, that you’re not in any danger of going overboard.

What is not so well known is that the very worst position for getting seasick is sitting down, either in the cockpit or down below. There may be some consolation in the fact that if you can survive being seasick for three days, you will have become adapted to the motion, and you are not likely to get sick later during that same trip.  The immunity you build up this way appears to last for six to 10 weeks, even if you spend some of that time on land, between voyages.

It doesn’t work that way for everybody, though.  I have been seasick for nine days in a row with no sign of adaptation and no relief until we reached port.  But two weeks later, when we set off to cross an ocean in very rough weather, I wasn’t seasick at all.

Incidentally, research has shown that women become seasick more frequently than men do. They seem to be more susceptible to motion sickness in general.  People of either gender become less prone to seasickness as they get older, and some authorities link this to a worsening sense of balance. Apparently, the more acute your sense of balance, the more likely you are to be sick. So as you get older, you’re less likely to suffer from seasickness, but more likely to fall overboard and drown.  What Nature giveth with one hand, she snatcheth away with the other.

Today’s Thought
You may be sure that the reason Ulysses was shipwrecked on every possible occasion was not because of the anger of the sea-god; he was simply subject to seasickness.
— Seneca, Epistulae ad Lucilium.

“Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup.”
(13) “No problem, sir, all our soup is treated with fly poison.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Anonymous said...

Women are known to have a lower center of gravity. I wonder if this has to do with them being more susceptable to seasickness.

Perhaps much as weight up high on a boat can affect rolling motion, weight higher up in the body (as men have) can affect swaying and thus sickness?

Belinda Del Pesco said...

"never recover, till a slow painful death releases you.." What a pitch perfect description. I've suffered for hours, but your 9 day record made me shudder. I'm stocking the boat with ginger and meds, and keeping fingers crossed that I can avoid a re-visit of my previous experience with your good advise.

KevinH said...

One's susceptibility to sea sickness is directly related to age and exposure. Just as one's ability to tolerate alcohol.; A young person's immune system is horrified at this attack on it's young, sensitive, balance/over indulgence mechanism, but an old salt's system goes, "Oh, yeah, I've been here too many times before, I'm not going to react anymore to this afront. ! Ultimately the nervous system ignores the stimulus' that it cannot change.

Laingdon Schmitt said...

Interesting that most folks seem to become less susceptible to seasickness with the passing of the years. I left a career in sail on account of gradually and steadily worsening seasickness. After awhile it just wasn't worth it any more. I wonder what the difference is?

John Vigor said...

Laingdon, I haven't notice any lessening of susceptibility with the passing of the years, either. I do get relief from the space-age drugs, however, specifically the "ear patch" or Scopolamine. Can't blame you for choosing a land-bound career, though. Seasickness is torture.

John V.