SEP 22, 2015 05:39 AM PDT

Can Zapping Your Brain Stop The Spins?

It’s a common occurrence. Whether it happens on a boat ride, a rollercoaster or just a high balcony, motion sickness, or vertigo can strike at any time. There is no known cause of motion sickness, but there are a lot of theories. Not all vertigo is the same of course, it can have many different causes, but the outcome is always unpleasant.
Electrodes that pass current over the scalp could ease motion sickness
Many researchers believe that messages received in the brain from our eyes and our ears can get crossed, much like a bad wiring connection. The brain processes sound and sight very differently and when we are on the ocean, a moving ride or anywhere the input is confusing, chances are motion sickness will be the result. Essentially, the brain needs to receive both the sight and the motion or things can go off kilter. If the eyes cannot see the object that is moving, but the inner ear canals can sense the movement, motion sickness can occur. The same can happen for example if you can see a merry-go-round spinning by, but are not on it and not feeling the revolutions.

While it’s not usually a serious problem, when the brain cannot reconcile the conflicting messages, the body’s reaction is often to vomit. Unlike after a bad meal, when the offending food is gone the vomiting stops, the same is not true in motion sickness. Until the conflict is resolved, the sickness can continue and can be a miserable way to spend a few days.

There could be new hope though for those who suffer. Research published this month in the Journal Neurology from a study at the Imperial College London has demonstrated that a low level electrical current switched on at the surface of the scalp can reduce the response in the area of the brain that triggers the dizziness and nausea. When the confusing signals of sight and motion are interrupted or muted on the area of the brain that processes them, the symptoms of motion sickness are reduced.

Dr Qadeer Arshad from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London authored the research and believes it will be available in the near future, perhaps over the counter in pharmacies. . In a press release he said, "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.”

Dr. Arshad conducted his research by designing a cap with electrodes which was then worn by study volunteers. After receiving a small amount of electrical stimulation for about 10 minutes the volunteers then took a whirling ride in a motion chair that tilted several different ways while spinning. Volunteers that rode in the chair without first having the electrical current passed over their scalp felt much sicker than those who used the stimulation. Arshad told BBC News, "The best comparison is with the best known drug scopolamine - we showed in essence that it's equivalent to scopolamine, but that drug knocks you out, it puts you to sleep." 

Professor Michael Gresty from Imperial College is an internationally recognized expert in the study of motion sickness and he worked with Dr. Arshad. He 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?”

Both Arshad and Gresty explained that the current being received was very small and there was no indication that it would be harmful even with repeated use. Check out the video to see more about the study.

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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