It could soon be safe for people with sea sickness to go back on the water, thanks to a new treatment that uses electrical currents to help calm down your brain's response to too much motion.
The treatment involves attaching electrodes to your head, which then painlessly stimulate your brain using gentle electrical currents. Right now this requires a portable machine, but in the future researchers hope to downsize the whole thing into a mobile app, with electrodes that plug into the headphone jack.
"We are confident that within five to 10 years people will be able to walk into the chemist and buy an anti-seasickness device," lead researcher Qadeer Arshad from University College London in the UK said in a press release. "It may be something like a tens machine that is used for back pain. We hope it might even integrate with a mobile phone, which would be able to deliver the small amount of electricity required via the headphone jack. In either case, you would temporarily attach small electrodes to your scalp before travelling - on a cross channel ferry, for example."
Scientists have been struggling for decades to find a way to effectively treat motion sickness, a condition that describes the symptoms of severe nausea, cold sweats, and dizziness that plague people when they travel by boats, plane, car, or any other moving vehicles.
One of the main obstacles is that scientists still don't really understand what causes the condition. The best explanation we have is that the brain receives confusing messages from our eyes and ears while we're moving, and somehow that triggers the symptoms which plague so many people.
And while we now have several effective drugs to treat the condition, the best available also come with side effects such as drowsiness, which isn't ideal for people who need to work on boats or planes.
The new treatment instead uses electrical currents to stimulate the region of the brain responsible for processing motion signals, with the aim of dampening its responses. This is the same technique that's been found to be effective at boosting concentration, aiding memory, and even making people more creative.
The team tested the technique out on 20 adults who already had motion sickness. All of them had electrodes attached to their head for 15 minutes before being strapped into a moving chair designed to trigger motion sickness - but only half of them were actually given the treatment, the rest experienced a placebo.
At the end of their motion sickness chair ride, those who'd been given the proper treatment all experienced less nausea and recovered more quickly than the placebo group (who we can't help but feel bad for). The results have been published in Neurology.
"We are really excited about the potential of this new treatment to provide an effective measure to prevent motion sickness with no apparent side effects," said Michael Gresty, a world leader on motion sickness from University College London who collaborated on the study. "The benefits that we saw are very close to the effects we see with the best travel sickness medications available."
We can't even begin to imagine how awesome it would be to be able to enjoy boat trips and long car rides without nausea, simply by plugging a few electrodes into our iPhones before travel. Bring it on.