What is land sickness and what to do about it when the cruise is over?

If this is your first-time on a cruise, you may experience motion sickness. One day onboard an all-inclusive Caribbean cruise ship, you may begin to notice a feeling like you’re moving when falling asleep at night. At first, you ascribe the feeling to seasickness caused by the rocking motion of the ship, but you can find yourself feeling dizzy, fighting nausea or stumbling when walking. Upon disembarking, you notice that the symptoms haven’t gone away. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, it could be land sickness.

What is it?

Mal de Debarquement Syndrome, or MdDS, is a balance disorder that causes a rocking sensation when you return to dry land and solid ground. It commonly occurs after a cruise. Travelers who suffer from MdDS feel as though they will tip over when walking. This is sometimes known as land legs, like sea legs but after you finish your boat trip. The MDDS Foundation describes it as “always feeling in motion”. This sickness of disembarkment will make one feel like they’re still moving when standing, lying down or sitting. Symptoms of MDDS usually last from a few hours to a few days, and in rare cases can last for years. While scientists have theories about what creates these sensations, the actual cause is unknown. The range of symptoms is broad and includes blurred vision, anxiety, changes in blood pressure, dizziness and lightheadedness.

How to avoid it

For those who are prone to this type of motion sickness, it helps to ask for a cabin in the middle or toward the front of the ship for your next cruise ship vacation. At sea, look at the horizon or nearby land rather than focusing on things up close. When sitting down, keep your head still and rest it against a head rest. Check with your doctor about taking an over-the-counter drug like Dramamine and avoid spicy, greasy foods and alcohol. Eat small meals throughout the day and drink plenty of water. Don’t smoke and don’t expose yourself to second-hand smoke. To fight nausea, nibble on dry crackers and sip a carbonated beverage like ginger ale or seltzer water. Post-cruise, your doctor can prescribe a patch that calms the symptoms of land sickness.

How to treat it

It can take a day or two to recover from dizziness, lightheadedness, and to regain your sense of balance. Take care when driving and stay close to a support if you feel like falling down. Call a doctor if your symptoms persist for more than a couple of days or if they’re severe enough to interfere with work or day-to-day activities. Treatment options include homeopathy, acupuncture and mind-body medicine are used, as well as traditional prescription drugs, to treat dizziness caused by a cruise. Deep-breathing exercises, herbal medicine and biofeedback may also help. Rare, severe cases that last for years may respond to Botox treatments or other off-label, long-term drug therapies. Vestibular rehabilitation of your vestibular system can also be affective in treating these symptoms if they last a long time. Always consult your primary care doctor for medical advice.