My dad has sailed quite bit in his life. He has friends that are sailors, he’s raced long distance, he owned boats most of my years as a kid, and so he’s the person closest to me that can give me the most information when it comes to the ocean. One of the things that stuck out the most out of all the things he passed on to me was the power of seasickness and how it can bring a man to his knees. Stories of sailing in good weather and then all of the sudden the wind changes direction and the whole crew is puking and living in misery, and sometimes that misery can last for days. Well, I won’t say that that my first day was so bad, but it got me thinking of why this was happening and if I could keep it from making me want to shoot myself somewhere deep into Mexico.
I don’t think I’ver ever thought about why we get sick at sea, but when John Santos explained it to me I was glued. I said, “write me something for the blog so I can share it with all of the other info nerds out there.”
I wouldn’t be mad at you if you thought that balance originated somewhere in your feet or maybe a little bit in your hands if they were outstretched. Your balance and coordination are mostly born from a collaboration between your Cochlea (part of your inner ear) and your eyes. This isn’t to say that there aren’t other players involved in balance (your sense of touch can also be a significant help with figuring out what’s going on).
How does it work? Picture a tall glass of water with little sensors all the way up the glass that light up as they come into contact with fluid. These sensors would alert you as you change the position of your glass. This is basically how the cochlea in your inner ear works. It’s a snail-looking compartment in your inner ear, filled with oily fluid and tiny hairs. As you wobble around life, cochlear fluid sloshes about and triggers tiny hairs connected to tiny nerves that in turn send tiny demands for tiny adjustments. With this, we are able to maintain balance.
There are a couple things we can do to mess with this. Getting incredibly drunk, spinning in circles, or rupturing your eardrum can all cause pretty incredible disruptions to your balance and well being.
Then there is sea sickness. Sea sickness sucks and affects the weak. It’s caused by a disagreement between your visual senses and the tiny sensors in your inner ear. As movement in the water cause you to rock about in a boat or raft or jet-ski, the hairy sensors in your inner ear send a messages of imbalance to your brain. Meanwhile, your eyes are taking in a larger picture of things and sending a message that all is stable and well. With the conflicting input, your brain ultimately decides that the only logical explanation for this conflict is that you have been poisoned by some backstabbing asshole, and initiates self-preserving nausea and vomiting. After vomiting, your brain might be satisfied for a minute or two, but will ultimately repeat the cycle a few times before any sort of conflict resolution is established. It’s going to suck and you’re going to feel poisoned, but I would encourage you to feel proud. All this seasickness is a result of your incredible sensitivity!