Why do sea sickness pills work for some but not others?

Ever taken a sea sickness pill only to find yourself, hours later, still green around the gills and clinging to a bucket like it’s your teenage sweetheart? People around you may have taken the same tablet, or no tablet at all, and be merrily swashbuckling like old sea dogs, while you’re nestled beside your new best friend, the toilet, quietly praying for a Westpac helicopter rescue.

And it doesn’t just happen on boats. Sea sickness – more accurately described as motion sickness – can also occur in cars, buses, trains and planes, and as every kid under 10 knows, on carnival rides. Some people claim they even get it on camels. It can happen anywhere and anytime the body is being jostled about in the absence of muscular movement.

So why do over the counter motion sickness tablets work for some people but not others? To answer that question, we first have to understand…

What causes motion sickness?

Trick question – there’s no definitive answer to what causes motion sickness. It used to be believed that motion sickness was caused by a disconnect between what the eye sees and what movement the brain senses, and sick people on boats were advised to focus their eyes on the horizon. However this theory has been de-bunked for a simple reason – blind people get motion sickness too.

The best educated guess on the cause of motion sickness, to which most health care experts agree, is that it starts in the inner ear. The inner ear is spiral in shape and filled with a fluid that plays an important role in our sense of balance. When our body is being pitched about, it causes a disturbance in the fluid in the inner ear, which in turn gives us that dizzy, unbalanced feeling. Some people seem to be more susceptible to this than others.

The mechanics of why a wonky inner ear leads to a sick feeling in the stomach is less understood. Actually, like many things in science, it’s not understood at all. If you have a theory, we’d love to hear it!

What motion sickness pills work best?

Again there’s no definitive answer on this. No two people are the same, so some medications work well for some and not others. Most medications are developed to either numb nerve activity in the inner ear potentially causing less disturbance in that area, while other medications work to quell the nausea in the stomach. Most have a sedative effect which works to ‘still’ the body and reduce inner ear disturbance. These same pills usually also include a stimulant like caffeine to counteract the sedative effect. Some medications have all the above combined to bombard sea sickness with all cannons firing.

And like all canons firing,  finding medication that works can be a hit-and-miss affair.

Some doctors will recommend that you keep trying different motion sickness medications until you find one that works for you. This way you get to waste a lot of money while continuing to vomit a lot.

There is a better way.

As experts in personalised medication we’re often asked by integrative doctors to make up motion-sickness medication for their patients, following a script that’s been specially designed for the unique needs of that individual. A little bit of this, and not too much of that. As a compounding pharmacy we can do this safely in our government-approved laboratory here in Australia.

For more details on motion sickness medication made from scratch to suit your body’s unique individual needs contact National Custom Compounding on 1300 731 755 or email [email protected]

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