Seasickness can ruin sea voyages for sufferers. Although anyone can get seasickness in severe conditions, some 20-30% of the population are more prone, especially migraine sufferers, women and children. Situations that increase susceptibility include changes in boat motion, on-board reading, heavy weather, passenger fatigue and even extreme smells. In this article, we share some tips for how to prevent seasickness.

What causes seasickness?

In simple terms, seasickness is caused by an imbalance between the motion you see and what is sensed by your middle ear motion-sensing organs. The brain senses motion via input from your eyes, skin and inner ear. If disrupted, your stability and balance can be lost.

Triggers include stress or sensory overload and both can trigger, among other things, an internal release of histamine that may lead to vomiting, nausea, dizziness (vertigo), tiredness, sweating, dehydration and general discomfort. Symptoms usually improve when the movement ceases, or your body adjusts to the voyage. Symptoms can vary from very mild to so severe that people become incapacitated.

How to prevent seasickness

Strategies for prevention of seasickness include keeping your eyes closed, sitting face forward or looking at the horizon. It’s best to avoid reading, using mobile devices or watching any moving objects. Minimising head or body movements by lying down and keeping your head still is effective.

Fresh air and staying calm can also help, so consider listening to music or focusing on your breathing. Opting for more frequent, lighter meals in smaller portions and avoiding alcohol and smoking all help reduce seasickness symptoms. Eating ginger or ginger-flavoured lozenges has some weak evidence supporting symptom reduction, but no evidence currently exists for magnets or acupressure bands.

Medications for seasickness

If simple preventative options fail, medicines such as Hyoscine (brands include Kwells and Travacalm) taken just prior to sea travel may help, but can interact with other prescription medications. Most hyoscine-based medications have side effects including sedation, dizziness and dry mouth or bladder irritation, hence are not routinely recommended for children. 

Older antihistamines brands such as Phenergan (not usually Claratyne/Zyrtec) taken the night prior can also help prevent seasickness. Antihistamines can be useful for children over two years of age if dosing is followed carefully.

Prescription anti-nausea drug brands such as Stemetil or Zofran can be effective, but are often expensive.  Scopolamine pills or patches are not available in Australia due to side-effects including hallucinations. However, it may be prescribed by ship doctors or available at your end destination. You may see them worn as patches applied behind the ear and can help symptoms for up to three days.

We’re here to help

We hope you found these tips for managing seasickness handy. Remember, we are one of Melbourne’s leading travel doctors, so if you require any advice about travel-related matters, please see us. Whether you require information about vaccinations or seasickness tablets, we’re here to help. Please get in touch!