Scientists found a new answer to motion sickness. And one day, it could fit in your pocket.
25%-40% of Americans suffer from some degree of motion sickness, and it can be a real buzzkill.
It's hard to enjoy your day at a theme park when you're nauseous, dizzy, and not sure you can keep down your corn dog. Medications like Dramamine can dull the symptoms, but those might make you drowsy, too — and the urge to curl up in a corner and sleep is just as likely to ruin your day (not to mention your commute to work).
But scientists just found a surprising new treatment for motion sickness.
In a recent study published in the journal Neurology led by Dr. Qadeer Arshad at Imperial College London, volunteers were hooked up to electrodes that sent a mild electrical current to a region of their brains for about 10 minutes. The current simply passed through the scalp to the brain — no scary, invasive stuff. Then the volunteers sat in a rotating motorized chair designed to make them feel sick.
And get this: Thanks to the electrical current, the participants left the chairs feeling less likely to toss their cookies.
It turns out that you can nix the nausea by slapping some electrodes to your scalp before riding the tilt-a-whirl, and the electrical current won't even make you drowsy.
Here's how it works.
No one is exactly sure what causes motion sickness, but scientists think the inner ear is the culprit.
The inner ear contains a network of nerves that provide information about motion and balance. As the inner ear collects that information, it passes it along to the brain.
The problem is that when you're, say, reading in the car, the inner ear registers that you're moving while your eyes register that the page of the book is not. So the brain receives mixed signals. It freaks out just enough to give you motion sickness.
But when you suppress those signals from the inner ear to the brain (cue the electrical current), you trick your brain into not noticing that your perceptions don't quite add up.
Arshad predicts that in five to 10 years, you'll be able to buy a device for treating motion sickness that plugs into your cellphone, too.
The device of the future would use your phone to pass a tiny electrical current through two small electrodes, kind of like earbuds that send electricity to your scalp instead of carrying music to your ears.
With our phones already playing an important role in personal health care (the health app in the iPhone 6 and 6-plus uses a built-in step-tracking sensor to automatically record how much you walk, how far you run, and how many stairs you climb), this seems like a smart solution.
What a dizzyingly awesome discovery.