Have scientists found a cure for seasickness? Gadget that applies mild electric current to the scalp ‘could eradicate nausea’
- Device plugs into a mobile phone to deliver a short shock to the head
- Developers hope gadget will be sold in pharmacies within five to ten years
- They believe the current dampens activity in brain responsible for motion
If you are prone to feeling queasy when you step aboard a boat, you will know there is very little you can do about it.
Well, all that may change within a decade, thanks to a device that scientists say can ward off sea sickness.
A mild electric shock to the scalp makes the feelings of nausea go away, according to experts at Imperial College London.
They are now developing a device that will plug into a mobile phone and deliver a short shock to the head via a set of electrodes.
They hope that the gadget will be sold in pharmacies within five to ten years.
Scientists think that motion sickness is caused by the confusing messages received from our ears and eyes when we are moving.
Three in ten people experience symptoms of dizziness, severe nausea and cold sweats when on the high seas or aboard a rollercoaster.
According to the Imperial scientists, whose research was published tonight in the journal Neurology, a mild electrical current applied to the scalp dampens the activity of the part of the brain responsible for processing motion signals.
Doing this reduces the impact of the confusing inputs received in the brain, preventing the problem that causes the symptoms of motion sickness.
Study leader Dr Qadeer Arshad, of Imperial’s department of medicine, said: ‘We are confident that within five to 10 years people will be able to walk into the chemist and buy an anti-seasickness device.
‘It may be something like a TENS [transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation] 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.
‘The currents involved are very small and there is no reason to expect any adverse effects from short term use.’
In the study, volunteers wore electrodes on their heads for about 10 minutes.
They were then asked to sit in a motorised rotating chair that also tilts to simulate the motions that tend to make people sick on boats or rollercoasters.
‘Following the treatment, they were less likely to feel nauseous and they recovered more quickly.
Co-author Professor Michael Gresty said: ‘The problem with treatments for motion sickness is that the effective ones are usually tablets that also make people drowsy.
‘That’s all very well if you are on a short journey or a passenger, but what about if you work on a cruise ship and need to deal with motion sickness whilst continuing to work?
‘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.
‘The benefits that we saw are very close to the effects we see with the best travel sickness medications available.’
The research team are already speaking to businesses about commercialising the device.
The military is also interested, the scientists say, particularly for use by people who feel sick when operating military drones.
Dr Arshad said: ‘From other studies we also have evidence that stimulating the brain in this way can enhance attention and concentration.
‘This aspect is of great interest to the military and we imagine that other groups such as students and people who spend long periods playing computer games will also want to try it out.’