Monday, June 05, 2006

Seasickness Advice?

"My experience with seasickness is that at first you are afraid you will die, then after a few hours you are afraid you will not. "
--G. Yancey Mebane, M.D.

I'm so embarrassed to admit this but it seems like whenever I get into the ocean, and there are waves and currents, I get seasick. Help! This is not encouraging. I have no problem swimming in a pool, a lake, or a calm bay but in the ocean, when the swells start picking me up and throwing me everywhere, I want to hurl.

Question of the Day:
How do you prevent sea sickness when swimming in very choppy ocean water?

Yesterday, I went for an evening swim in La Jolla Cove. When I got in the water, it was calm, sunny, and warm. There were tons of people in the water--kids, snorkelers, divers, kayakers, other open water swimmers, etc. Of course, it seemed like as soon as I got in the water, everyone got out. It was, afterall, 6 pm on a Sunday.

I started on my swim and was having a great time. I felt strong, my stroke felt smooth, I was calm, and, most importantly, not sick. At the turn around point, about 0.6 miles out, the sun went behind the clouds and the wind picked up. I was then swimming against a strong current and there were swells coming under me from 2 directions. The current didn't bother me but the swells, throwing me up and down, did. My arm would come up over my head and go into the water for entry at a different point on each stroke, sometimes below, sometimes above. I had a hard time sighting because the swells were like mountains in front of me, blocking the sight of the shore.

Stopping to rest was out of the question. My body suddenly became aware of all the bobbing, making me feel even worse. I felt like I had to keep going or risk becoming very sick. Luckily, the buoyancy of the wetsuit and salt water made it very easy to slow down my pace to catch my breath when I needed. I had been trying to alternate breathing sides, which I normally do to prevent fatigue and make it easier to swim straight, but this compounded my seasickness. I found that if I put my head down, breathed on one side, and focused on my stroke, the seasickness went away. When I turned to breathe, I looked up at the sky, which helped, since the sky wasn't moving. The only time it would surge up again was when I would sight. However, I got very good at sighting without having to disrupt my stroke, peering out of the corner of my eye as my head lowered back into the water.

As I approached shore, I was able to see the bottom, which I normally enjoy. I love watching all the little fishies swimming around. But instead, it only reminded me of how much everything was bobbing, bouncing, and rolling around. I could see the seaweed going in one direction with the fish, back-and-forth, as the water carried me forward, then back, then forward with the waves, as I continuously swam forward. That continuous rocking back and forth brought back the seasickness with full force. I finally staggered onto land and pulled myself onto the grass. Jason asked how it went. "Seasick," I groaned, collapsing onto the grass beside his chair. I stared up at the sky, which was spinning round and round my head. It took awhile for everything to settle down. It seemed like the swimmer's ear drops I use after each swim to dry out my ears helped a lot. However, I couldn't even look at the ocean the rest of the evening. Just looking at the constantly moving water reminded my body of how badly I had felt earlier.

Obviously, since this is the first phase of the triathlon, this is a problem. I can't collapse at T1 and wait for the world to stop spinning. Although lots of triathlons are in very calm waters, some of my upcoming races are up at Carlsbad and Oceanside, where the surf is rough (surfing is very popular there--big waves=Rachel seasick).

Some thoughts:
  • I used to swim in the ocean as a kid, and I never had this problem. Could it be hormones? Also, I'm tapering off some medication I have been on for awhile. I suspect this may add to/worsen the seasickness since one of the side effects is dizziness. Hmmm.
  • Also, I'm still getting used to swimming in a wetsuit. I love how it keeps me warm but I actually hate the extra buoyancy. It makes me bob like a cork on top of the water, adding to my nasuea.
  • I've heard feeling anxious or scared in the water can add to the seasickness but I felt incredibly calm. I just felt like I was fighting it the whole time.
  • I've even been experimenting with OTC seasickness meds--Meclazine, the less-drowsy form of Dramamine. I took 2 this time before I got in the water. I didn't have any adverse side effects, which is good, but I still felt got seasick (although I didn't throw up, and I was mostly able to control it on the swim). Could I not be taking enough? Are there other drugs out there? Imagine how bad it could be without the Mecalzine!
  • I've heard ear plugs work wonders when it comes to seasickness. I haven't been wearing any. Maybe I should start. It did help me back on land when I dried out my ears with the drops.
  • Will this go away with experience? Does your body eventually "get over" seasickness?
  • Would accupressure bracelets help?


punky said...

i get seasick too but somehow it's not as bad when you're sitting on a surfboard. my surf sessions are usually limited either by (1) cold water or (2) seasickness setting in after about 1.5 hours or so.

I got seasick within 10 minutes of jumping into the water when i went snorkeling in australia - same as you. having to fight choppy waters really made me sick. I don't know what to tell you besides i get the same thing!

Habeela said...

I wish I had some great advice for you but I know absolutely nothing about this! Can you believe that I used to get seasick while snorkeling in the S. Pacific and just this year figured out that's what it was? Yeah, that's useful, I know. ;)

Jessi said...

Did you take your seasick meds at least an hour in advance? I know that some meds need a little time before they kick in.

Accupressure bracelets might be worth a shot - I've seen people use them at sea (on research boats) and they seem to work.

You do get over seasickness, but unfortunately only after you've been at sea for awhile (days). So it's more about acclimation than experience, if that makes sense.

Although your body might not have a chance to acclimate to the swells, my guess is that open-water practice certainly can't hurt. E.g. now you know not to look at the bottom when you get shallow and are feeling sick, and you also know that if you concentrate on your stroke you feel a little better.

Mike said...

Rachel..what a bummer..hope things turn around here. I've never had an issue *knock on wood* but grew up surfing so used to getting knocked around in the water.
You've probably already thought about it but be careful with the meds...i'd be concerned with how they could affect you after the swim...

Tammy said...

Interesting. I do remember feeling very dizzy on my second open water outing, but it passed, and hasn't recurred. (knock on wood). Good luck!

Barb said...

I wish I could help, but I get anxious just swimming in a lake. I think you're awfully brave to go out in a choppy ocean. Boy, I'm a real wuss, aren't I?

Kewl Nitrox said...

1. Ginger helps. Try to take more ginger as part of meals or maybe take ginger pills before open water swim.

2. RELAX - I find that the more I panic, worry about my strokes, or struggle, the more sea sick I became. Relax and go with the flow, don't fight the water.

3. Are you using a goggles or a swim mask. I found my goggles fogging up and giving really bad visibility which adds to sea sickness. After I switched to my swim mask, I can see better and feel better.

4. Don't sight too often - i.e. only look up to check if you are heading the right direction every 6 to 8 strokes.

Hope it helps! :D

jameson said...

i would definitely give the ear plugs a shot. It seems like you have tried everything else. I hope it come around.