New Hope for Seasickness Prevention

NASA research provides hope for an effective, new preventive technique against seasickness.

14th July 2010.
By Tom Tripp

Baroque Depiction of "Seasickness" by Giorgio Bonola, Image from Wikipedia Commons

Baroque Depiction of "Seasickness" by Giorgio Bonola, Image from Wikipedia Commons

Motion sickness, to quote Dr. Patricia S. Cowings, of NASA’s Ames Research Center, “won’t kill you — you just wish it would.” She and a colleague have discovered that a regimen of biofeedback training is more effective than even the powerful anti-nausea drugs given to NASA astronauts — some 50 percent of whom suffer from airsickness during spaceflight. An MSNBC blog piece by Chris Tachibana cites the publication of this new research by Cowings and Dr. William B. Toscano in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.

Motion sickness has been a serious concern for NASA for a long time. The debilitating affliction can compromise the potential accomplishments of a spaceflight that is on a strict timeline with no allowance for downtime or sudden crew shortages. But I guess it should all make us feel better that half of all the people with The Right Stuff still get “seasick.”

The biofeedback technique discovered by Cowings and Toscano involves learning to control heart rate and sweating, principally using breathing techniques combined with high-tech biofeedback. It’s more than just relaxation, the techniques actually lower heart rates and diminish sweating, which have the effect of stopping nausea.

The scientists compared results of their Autogenic-Feedback Training Exercise (AFTE) with the standard NASA treatment of an injection of promethazine (Phenergan), and with a control group that had no training or treatment. The AFTE group had dramatically better results than the group that had even the highest doses of promethazine.

Until AFTE is available publicly, the recommendation from the study’s scientists is to focus on steadying your breathing, using two-second intervals for inhalations and exhalations. I can attest to the efficacy of this. On a recent offshore passage, we were beaten up rather stiffly by a confused quartering sea with a short period and every time I went below decks I had to race back topside and do some deep-breathing exercises while focusing on the horizon. Eventually I got used to the seas, as most people do, and I never actually fed the fishes, but I know there’s something to this new research. I’ll keep an eye on it for you here on OceanLines. In the meantime, suck on some crystallized ginger and do your breathing!!

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About the author:

Tom Tripp

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Tom is the publisher of www.OceanLines.biz, a website about passagemaking boats and information. He is also a contributor to Chesapeake Bay Magazine who has been at sea aboard everything from a 17-foot homemade wooden fishing boat to a 1,000-foot-long, 96,000-ton, nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

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