sickness has been a common problem ever since the beginning of vehicle
travel thousands of years ago. It was well known during Biblical times
as “camel sickness”—the gentle swaying caused nausea in many
riders (in fact, Lawrence of Arabia was often sick to the point of
incapacitation from his long camel journeys). When traveling by sea
became widespread, the name changed to seasickness. The word nausea
actually comes from the Greek “naus” meaning ship. More recently, we
have carsickness, airsickness, space motion sickness, simulator
sickness, and virtual reality motion sickness.
sickness is not a disorder. It is a normal response to an abnormal
stimulus. All types of motion sickness are due to the same basic
problem: a disagreement between the information you get from your eyes
and the information from the vestibular organs of your inner
ears—between what you see and what you feel. The result is a confusion
in your brain’s normal sensory awareness processing. Something
doesn’t feel right. This is the same sort of sensory disturbance that
might result from eating toxic or spoiled foods. The body is programmed
in this case to get rid of the food as fast as possible. This is why
motion sickness causes vomiting.
is the main concern for pilots. Surveys show that incapacitating
airsickness occurs in 29 percent of airline pilots. Motion sickness is
even more common when using a flight simulator, and up to 70 percent of
pilots are affected. Surprisingly, the best pilots are the most
susceptible. This is probably because they are more familiar with how
the simulator should act, and when it doesn’t, the difference between
visual and vestibular senses is more obvious.
sickness is familiar to most people: it begins with an uncomfortable
sensation that is often called “stomach awareness.” This leads to
increased salivation, swallowing and burping. Sometimes, there is less
stomach discomfort and more of an overall sense of feeling drowsy or
tired, with perspiration, difficulty concentrating, and mental
confusion. All of these feelings can quickly progress to outright nausea
and vomiting. That usually makes the person feel slightly better, but
the unfortunate ones who are most affected go on to repeated bouts of
retching and diarrhea.
is no way to predict who is going to become motion sick. A number of
factors increase your likelihood:
Youth: susceptibility to motion sickness begins at
about age two, increases to a peak in adolescence, and then steadily
diminishes with passing years—a minor blessing of old age.
Females tend to be more susceptible than males.
This is especially true during menses or pregnancy, or if they use birth
Athletes are more susceptible. Why? Probably
because people who are fit tend to have highly tuned senses and are more
likely to notice sensory conflict.
Anxiety and stress increase motion sickness.
Large meals, especially those high in salt,
protein, or dairy products.
Bad odors; it is best to get cool, fresh air
Abrupt head movements; it is best to move slowly
rather than sharply bobbing or swiveling the head
sickness is caused by a conflict of senses, it tends to go away as the
person becomes accustomed to this conflict and accepts it as natural. This
is why seasickness usually resolves within a day or two. The problem with
flying is that pilots rarely stay aloft that long.
people experience motion sickness, they are much more likely to get it
again. They will quickly recognize the uncomfortable sensation and they
know what is coming next. Some
pilots who have often become airsick will start to feel nauseated even if
they just look at an airplane or smell aviation fuel. By that point, it
takes a lot longer to reverse the tendency to airsickness
sickness is slightly different from the usual airsickness. The most often
reported symptoms are eyestrain, blurred vision, difficulty focusing, and
visual flashbacks, with occasional headache and difficulty concentrating.
Some pilots, even those who never have any problems during flight, get a
little unsteady on their feet after being in a simulator for several
hours. The FAA recommends that pilots do not fly, or even drive, for a few
hours after an extended session in a simulator. If the simulator is a very
high-quality cockpit substitute, the effects are more severe and the FAA
recommends delaying actual pilot-in-command flight for 12 hours.
standard motion sickness medications cause drowsiness or other mental
impairments. They also have many other side effects, such as visual
disturbances and dry mouth. Because of this, the FAA does not allow the
pilot in command to use motion sickness medication. (The military makes an
exception, and may allow pilots to use a combination of scopolamine and
most common motion sickness medications are antihistamines, including
diphenhydramine (e.g, Benadryl), meclizine (Antivert), dimenhydrinate
(Dramamine), cyclizine (Marizine), and buclizine (Bucladin-S). In general,
they cause some drowsiness but are otherwise relatively safe and can also
be used by children. They are available without prescription, but
none of them are allowed by the FAA.
effective motion sickness remedy is scopolamine, usually taken in the form
of a patch placed behind the ear. This medication works slowly as it
leaches into the skin and the effects continue for a long time—a single
patch will last for about three days. Scopolamine also has the worst side
effects, with visual problems and even severe mental effects in some
people. Users must also take great care in handling the patch. If the
hands are not washed immediately after, touching an eye can result in a
horrendously enlarged pupil. Scopolamine (Transderm Scop) patches are
available only by prescription.
very effective motion sickness medications include the anti-nausea drugs
promethazine (Phenergan) and trimethobenzamide (Tigan). These are
available by prescription, and may be combined with ephedrine to minimize
drowsiness, but are not allowed by the FAA..
medications can be very useful while training since they allow the pilot
to become accustomed to the sensations of flight without becoming ill.
However, they may be used only when accompanied by an instructor pilot or
so long as you are not acting as pilot-in-command.
you are worried about becoming airsick, it is useful to experiment with
medication during your training flights. Once you feel comfortable flying
while using medication, begin flying without the medication but only on
calm days and doing only mild, gentle maneuvers. Then gradually increase
exposure to more extreme maneuvers. The best way to combat airsickness is
to take it easy. You must condition your body to accept the sensory
disturbance as a normal feeling.
ginger root work? Does the FAA allow it for pilot use?
Ginger root has
long been used in traditional Chinese medicine to prevent nausea. There is
some evidence that it can alleviate motion sickness. It is taken as a
powder, in tea, or as candied ginger. Some people even chew the fresh
root, although it has a very sharp taste. The FAA does not specifically
prohibit the use of any herbal remedy, but prohibits use of any
medication, substance, or supplement that might impair performance. Since
ginger is unlikely to cause any side effect, it is allowed.
summary, ginger root appears to be safe and may be helpful for some
people. You should inform your AME if you are taking ginger for this
purpose, or any other supplements or herbal remedies. MORE
ON GINGER ROOT
How about those
acupressure wrist bands?
people claim that acupressure relieves motion sickness. Elastic wrist
bands and an electrical stimulating device are available. The point to be
stimulated is on the front forearm, about 1.5 inches from the wrist
crease, called the P6 point in acupuncture. A number of studies have been
undertaken to see if stimulating this point is effective in preventing
motion sickness. The results have not been impressive. On the other hand,
the practice does not cause any harm, so if it works for you, great, but I
wouldn’t count on it.
How to prevent
airsickness without medication
With enough sensory disturbance, everyone will eventually
experience some degree of motion sickness. The best way to avoid it is by
minimizing the sensory conflict, and by a process of adaptation so that
the conflict is less bothersome. The military uses a program of “G
Awareness Maneuvers” to prepare candidates for aerobatics and
dogfighting. They do this with a series of brief flight maneuvers,
gradually increasing in intensity, never progressing until the pilot is
comfortable with the milder maneuver. In this way, a steady accommodation
is allowed. You can do the same with training flights or by hitching a
ride as a passenger.
motion sickness before flight:
a light, non-spicy snack 2-3 hours before flight. Avoid large or spicy
meals, or a completely empty stomach. Also avoid alcohol.
familiar with the planned flight, where you will go and what maneuvers
will be done. Do not do aerobatics with another pilot without fully
briefing each other before takeoff.
light, loose clothing that allows free movement.
Try to deal with any anxiety about the flight or other conditions by
resolving problems or discussing them with your instructor. Try to get
to know your instructor on a personal level so that there is trust,
understanding, and good communication.
motion sickness during flight:
on flying tasks, keeping the aircraft straight and level or in a
precise turn. It is especially useful to keep pitch and vertical
changes to a minimum.
on the horizon, if you have one. If in instrument flight, pay even
more attention than usual to the Attitude Indicator, with its
the vents to get some fresh, cool air on your face.
supplemental oxygen if it is available.
1 in 4 pilots have been annoyed or distracted by flicker at some time in
their careers. This happens most often with helicopter pilots, but also
occurs in propeller aircraft on the ground with the engines idling, or
with flashing or rotating lights reflecting off cloud or other surfaces.
Some people are abnormally sensitive to low-frequency flashing lights and
may even suffer epileptic seizures. Most people simply feel a sense of
annoyance or discomfort, with pain in the eyes, headache, a sense of
movement, spinning or nausea, and drowsiness. Studies show that about 4 to
6 percent of helicopter pilots have abnormal brain waves during
low-frequency light flashes, but do not show any problem in performance.
About 1 in 20,000 has a more severe reaction and should not fly.