SCUBA Diving and Managing Motion Sickness
It’s definitely an ‘uncomfortable’ topic but we’re going to talk about SCUBA diving and managing motion sickness.
I started diving here in Colorado in 2002. I never had any trouble with motion sickness and SCUBA diving until I went on my first dive trip to Cairns, Australia later that year on a liveaboard.
I was so sick that I had to cut my time on the boat short by a day or two. Is there anything I could have done to get the most out of my time and enjoyed it more?
Let’s dive into SCUBA diving and managing motion sickness!
A little more information about what I covered in the divecast. Here goes…
What causes motion sickness anyway?
Motion sickness occurs when our brains get confused by a mismatch between three of our senses.
- Visual Perception
- Muscle Sensation/Action
- Inner Ear (Balance)
When these things don’t align the way our mind expects, our brain has trouble processing the data and the result is what we commonly refer to as motion sickness, airsickness, car sickness, and yes, seasickness.
SCUBA Diving and Managing Motion Sickness (Let’s talk remedies!)
There is a wide range of things we can do when scuba diving and managing motion sickness. From completely free and accessible anywhere to products and even prescription options. Below I’ll briefly describe the results of my research on each.
As I mentioned in the Divecast, while I have listed several studies and articles below, there is very little scientific data directly for treating seasickness in conjunction with SCUBA diving so we have to rely on the data available for general motion sickness and other causes of nausea (pregnancy and chemotherapy being two of the most frequently studied).
You may have heard that you can focus on the horizon and get fresh air to help. In addition to this free option, you can use the first two parts of Stop, Breathe, Think, Act to calm your mind. Stop, Breathe and focus on relaxing your muscles (especially your core).
Ginger has a long history as a known remedy for an upset stomach. Unless you have an allergy to ginger this is a low-cost, easy preventative measure you can take when traveling by taking ginger supplements or gum.
Some studies have shown that B-6 can be used to effectively treat nausea. Like ginger, B-6 has no published negative side effects is easy to get, and is inexpensive.
The Sea-Bands are elastic bands that incorporate a plastic nub that, when worn, uses a pressure point on your wrist that is intended to relieve nausea. If you go to the Sea-Band website you can find a link for data they suggest supports their product claims. In my own research, I found the effectiveness data to be inconclusive. On the other hand, the Sea-Bands are $13 per pair in the US so the risk is pretty low. I ordered a pair to try them out.
I reached out to Sea-Band prior to the show and requested any additional data they were willing to share but received no reply.
The Relief Band takes the wrist pressure point to a whole new level by using electrostimulation to reduce nausea through a battery-operated wristband using the same point on your wrist. The latest version looks a lot like my Fitbit.
Relief Band uses two phrases I want to bring to your attention “FDA Cleared” and “Clinically Proven”. FDA clearance is not an endorsement by the FDA but it does require some rigor on the part of the company to validate a claim. “Clinically Proven” suggests (in combination with “FDA Cleared”) that there is solid data backing the claims that the Relief Band will reduce nausea. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any compelling published study data to back this up. To quote Fox Mulder “I want to believe!” because I get seasick (bad) and would love a cool gadget that would solve the problem.
Unlike Sea-Band, Relief Band does not publish any study data on their website (at least that I found and I did look) so it was difficult to come to any real conclusion.
I reached out to Relief Band prior to the show and requested any additional data they were willing to share but received no reply.
Medications – Safety Note
Before we talk about medications that treat nausea I want to put in a word of caution.
Diving puts us out of our element and it’s an activity where we need to be at our best. Any medication that can adversely affect our ability to cope with anxiety or stress or that can have an unknown/adverse reaction underwater can put both ourselves and our dive buddy at risk. Be very careful when opting to add mediations to your diving and talk to your doctor!
Dramamine is a common over-the-counter anti-nausea medication. Like ginger and B-6 there are plenty of studies that support Dramamine’s effectiveness. However, unlike everything I’ve mentioned until now, Dramamine does have side effects when can negatively impact SCUBA divers.
- Blurred Vision
- Dry Mouth
Dry mouth is a common symptom of, well, SCUBA diving in general because the air in our tanks is dry to begin with, so this might actually not matter as long as you stay hydrated between dives.
I’ve never fallen asleep on a reef (even having taken Dramamine) so, at least for me, drowsiness hasn’t affected my diving.
Blurred vision could be a problem! If you think Dramamine might be a good option to help relieve your nausea on a boat my recommendation is to speak with your doctor AND take some Dramamine, wait a couple of hours, and dive in a controlled, familiar location with a good dive buddy who can watch you for side effects and help you if something does happen.
Maldemar is an anti-nausea medication that is available by prescription only (at least in the US). Similar to Dramamine there is clinical data supporting the use of Maldemar to treat nausea but we’re now in the realm of side effects that can negatively affect SCUBA divers.
- Pupil Dilation
- Blurred Vision
- And more…
Agitation and confusion are not helpful for SCUBA divers.
This is definitely one that you’ll want to discuss with your doctor (since you’ll have to get a prescription anyway – make sure they know you intend to use it for SCUBA diving). Again, I would recommend taking a dose and diving in a familiar, controlled location with a good dive buddy before using it on a trip or more advanced diving.
I’ve already ordered B-6, ginger and Sea-Bands to try out. Let’s face it they’re economical and have no real downside unless you have an allergy to ginger.
As for the Relief Band… I wish there was compelling study data that I could find but for between $80 and $250 it’s a more costly experiment.
Having said that… if I was planning a liveaboard trip would I drop the $250? Probably so, I want to get the most out of every dive trip!
The pharmaceutical solutions need to be used with care. I’ve used Dramamine on a number of boats and it has worked for me all but one time. As I mentioned earlier, if you’re going to dive on days that you take medications it’s important to understand not only the standard side effects but any reactions that my occur at depth.
Gear Junkie’s Garage
As a result of my research into SCUBA diving and managing motion sickness, I’m putting together a dry box with ginger, Sea-Bands, B-6 and yes… Dramamine.
Okay… this is a pretty short GJG but that’s okay :).
Tip of the Week
Pre-Dive Your Dives
One of the great things about SCUBA diving is the sense of excitement we get when we’re about to make a dive in a new location or a new diving condition. It’s also where we can run into trouble with anxiety, training, unfamiliarity with the location or situation, etc. This can lead to a less exciting dive or even a diving accident.
The good news is that we can do a lot to get the most out of each new dive and minimize the risk of an accident.
Do this by examining your expected dive from gear to briefing to descent to dive to ascent to cleanup and logging. Duing this examination, figure out what is going to be new to you.
Will you be using equipment you’re unfamiliar with? New diving techniques? Whatever might be different that you’ve done in the past is on the table here.
Once you’ve made the list, figure out what you can do to simulate that new experience in a controlled environment. For example, take a dry suit specialty course if you’re going to be moving from a 3 mm shorty to a dry suit for a cold temperature dive. Do as much as possible in the water in the same gear you’ll be diving in on-site. This will provide the best practice for you and reduce the number of questions or anxiety points you’ll have on dive day!
🤿The surface interval’s over…
get out there and dive!🤿