When Travelling Isn’t Fun

Kinetosis’ sounds better than “motion sickness”, especially if you want to say that is the reason you cannot travel. But using the refined term does not in any way reduce the suffering endured by 30 per cent of the people as they travel by car, bus, airplane, ship or train. In 10 per cent, the symptoms of queasiness, discomfort, sweating, palpitations, nausea and sometimes vomiting are severe enough to be incapacitating.

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We are born with an ability to spatially relate our position to that of our surroundings, a natural in-built efficient global positioning system (GPS). It receives inputs from our eyes and the peripheral nerves in our hands and feet. The messages are carried by chemicals in the blood to the brain. Our middle ear houses fine hair-like structures and contains a fluid called endolymph. As our head and body move, these hairs also change position and send messages to the brain. Coordination and processing all the information occurs in the brain at a rate “faster than the speed of light”. The body immediately knows where it is relative to the environment.

At times there is a dissociation between the two sets of impulses. While seated in a moving car, the peripheral nerves say the body is still. But the eyes see a rapidly changing moving horizon. The endolymph swishes and swirls if the road is winding or if there is sudden acceleration and deceleration. All this confuses the brain.

There is an illusion of motion created by the travel, combined with the absence of motion detected by the body. The brain infers that something has gone wrong. Subconsciously fearing toxin ingestion, nausea and vomiting set in to rid the body of the supposed poison.

The 21st century, however, has produced new types of kinetosis. Simulation sickness produces symptoms identical to motion sickness and occurs while playing 3D computer games with virtual reality. This creates a dissociation in the input information, causing spatial disorientation, almost like hitting the “save” and “delete” buttons at the same time.

Motion sickness is more likely to affect women and children under the age of 12. The symptoms may be severe enough to make travelling in a lift or escalator difficult. Some children have problems playing video games or even looking through a microscope. It also becomes a severe problem in children who have to travel long distances to school. Arriving daily with nausea, sweating or after actually having vomited is an ordeal in itself, enough to set off a cycle of “school phobia”.

The good news is that motion sickness which sets in at a young age often disappears as the children grow older. The elderly who suddenly develop this symptom, however, usually find that it slowly starts worsening.

Motion sickness can be treated. The common remedies are Dramamine or Avomine. It has to be taken at least an hour before travel to be effective. This may cause drowsiness. Domperidone and other anti emetics do not work in motion sickness. They are effective in nausea caused by gastrointestinal problems.

People who do not like to take medication for motion sickness can try home remedies:

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• Avoid eating a full meal prior to the journey. Light, non-spicy food with less oil is best.

• Avoid alcohol.

• While booking seats sit facing forwards as far as possible. In a bus try to get a seat close to the driver. In a plane a seat near the wings is best. If travelling by ship, try to get a cabin near the centre of the ship and lie down.

• Avoid reading or looking down.

• Smell or suck on a lime.

• Eat sweetened ginger cubes or swallow ginger capsules.

• Try magnetic amulets.

• Acupressure bracelets or a wristband can be worn in the centre of the wrist three finger widths below the wrist crease.

Amulets, ginger and lime have not been scientifically evaluated. It is difficult to ascertain whether there is a psychological overlay in their purported beneficial action, as the problem is caused by faulty brain signals, and the brain is very powerful and unpredictable. Acupressure has been proven to work. Also, motion sickness can recur after remaining quiescent for many years. It has to be considered a factor in career choices. Astronauts, pilots and anyone planning a career on ships or trains have to consider a predisposition to motion sickness. Rapid acceleration and deceleration may precipitate the symptoms once again.

Sources: The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)

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