Airsickness is a sensation which is induced by air travel. It is a specific form of motion sickness, and is considered a normal response in healthy individuals. Airsickness occurs when the central nervous system receives conflicting messages from the body (including the inner ear, eyes and muscles) affecting balance and equilibrium. The inner ear is particularly important in the maintenance of balance and equilibrium because it contains sensors for both angular (rotational) and linear motion. Airsickness is usually a combination of spatial disorientation, nausea and vomiting. Experimentally, airsickness can be eliminated in monkeys by removing part of the cerebellum, namely the nodulus vermis.
Common signs and symptoms of airsickness include:
Nausea, vomiting, vertigo, loss of appetite, cold sweating, skin pallor, difficulty concentrating, confusion, drowsiness, headache, and increased fatigue. Severe airsickness may cause a person to become completely incapacitated.
Susceptibility to Airsickness
Some people are more susceptible to airsickness than others are.
- Fatigue, stress, and anxiety, are some factors that can increase susceptibility to motion sickness of any type.
- The use of alcohol, drugs, and medications may also contribute to airsickness.
- Additionally, airsickness is more common in women (especially during menstruation or pregnancy), young children, and individuals prone to other types of motion sickness.
- Although airsickness is uncommon among experienced pilots, it does occur with some frequency in student pilots.
Travelers who are susceptible to motion sickness can minimize symptoms by:
- Choosing seats with the smoothest ride (the seats over the wings in an airplane).
- Sit facing forward while focusing on distant objects rather than trying to read or look at something inside the airplane.
- Eat dry crackers and drink a carbonated beverage.
Treatment of Airsickness
Medications that may alleviate the symptoms of airsickness include:
- meclizine (Antivert, Bonine)
- dimenhydrinate (Dramamine)
- diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
- scopolamine (available in both patch and oral form).
Pilots who are susceptible to airsickness should not take anti-motion sickness medications ( prescription or over-the-counter). These medications can make one drowsy or affect brain functions in other ways.
Recently, several devices have been introduced that are intended to reduce motion sickness through stimulation of various body parts (usually the wrist). These products are marketed under the names “Sea Bands" and "Relief Band", among others.
Another effective method to increase pilot resistance to airsickness consists of repetitive exposure to the flying conditions that initially resulted in airsickness. In other words, repeated exposure to the flight environment decreases an individual’s susceptibility to subsequent airsickness. Since this is not always practical, Sam C. Puma MD developed a series of conditioning exercises called " Puma Method for Prevention of Motion Sickness". These exercises also work for any kind of motion sickness and possibly even "space sickness".
There are numerous alternative remedies for motion sickness. The most popular are ginger derivatives, such as ginger tea or powdered ginger capsules.