Ever felt nauseous on the Mad Tea Party cups at the Magic Kingdom or the Tilt-A-Whirl at a local carnival? What about on a ferryboat? Many people tolerate routine motion on a boat, plane or even roller coaster, but nearly everyone experiences the misery of sickness while traveling at some point in not so calm conditions or is a spinning carnival ride. For centuries, people have sought help when encountering motion sickness, or at least the symptoms, but a group of scientists believe an effective treatment for the cause, as well as the symptoms, may be on the way.
Routine motion sickness, when traveling by planes, trains, automobiles or boats routinely experienced by 30 percent of people. Scientists have never determined exactly what causes motion sickness. One theory many espouse is that as people are moving fast the brain gets confused. The messages received from eyes and ears send confusing and conflicting information to the inner ear and ultimately the brain. This is believed to cause the queasiness, dizziness, cold sweats and other symptoms.
People who have a damaged inner ear do not suffer from motion sickness. So, researchers believe the answer to finding an effective motion sickness treatment is in some way connected to the inner ear. They theorized that mild electrical currents could be used to interfere with the confusing messages arriving from the part of the ear that controls balance. The method was believed to be an alternative to drugs without the typical drowsiness they induce.
A team of researchers at Imperial College London conducted trials on 20 participants to see if using a mild electrical current, or “transcranial direct current stimulation,” to dampen brain responses to motion signals. As explained in the Sep. 4 issue of Neurology, the volunteers set in a motorized “chunder chair,” which simulated a fairground ride that twisted and turned them around at angles or extremely turbulent boat or plane ride.
One hour later, half of the group had small electrical currents passed through their scalp to alter their brain activity. Those who received the treatment were less likely to feel nauseous than those who did not. If they did have any motion sickness symptoms, those who received the treatment recovered more quickly. Additionally, no side-effects to brain stimulation were observed.
While this was a very limited study, research leader Dr Qadeer Arshad, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, said, “We are confident that within five to ten years people will be able to walk into the chemist and buy an anti-seasickness device.” He even expressed the hope that the technology could be integrated with smartphones in the future to deliver the minimal amount of electricity required using a headphone jack.
Michael Gresty, an Imperial College professor who is considered to be a world expert on motion sickness, collaborated on the study. “The problem with treatments for motion sickness is that the effective ones are usually tablets that also make people drowsy.” Gresty noted that enduring treatments that make one drowsiness is fine on a short journey or as a passenger, but what about someone who works on a cruise ship and needs to deal with motion sickness while continuing to work? He added that they are excited that this could potentially mean an effective treatment for motion sickness could soon be on the way.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
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Neurology: Electrocortical Therapy For Motion Sickness
Photo courtesy of Daryl Mitchell – Creative Commons license