simple device may allow thousands of people
to get out on the water.
The angler did not look good. His eyes were bloodshot, his face a pallid gray. He staggered up to the captain of the charter boat and groaned." How much does this boat cost?"
"Uh, $35,000," the startled skipper replied. "Why?"
"Because Iíll buy it right this minute for $400,000 cash if youíll take me back to the dock. Otherwise I may have to die to get better!"
I witnessed the above exchange on an offshore trip out of Alabama, and if youíve ever suffered a bad case of mal du mer you can no doubt sympathize with the desperate angler. Seasickness may provide ample fodder for ribbing among fishing buddies, but itís no joke to the afflicted. The prolonged nausea and dizziness associated with this age-old nautical malady has made more than one mariner wish for a quick and merciful end.
Until recently, boaters and fishermen have had to rely on over-the-counter drugs such as Dramamine and Bonine, along with prescription remedies like Scopalomine (the famous patch), to cure seasickness. While these drugs do provide relief for some people, they often have unpleasant side effects, such as drowsiness, headaches, dry mouth and even short-term memory loss. Some of these drugs can also be dangerous when taken in combination with other prescription medication.
But now thereís a new alternative, and it could just prove to be a panacea for the unpleasant and sometimes debilitating effects of seasickness. Itís called the ReliefBand, and it works under the premise that mild electrical pulses applied to nerves in the wrist area can stimulate a response in the brain that prevents the onslaught of nausea. The battery-operated ReliefBand is worn on the wrist, where it administers periodic, mild electrical shocks to the wearer. Because some people respond better to different levels of electrical stimuli, the strength of the shock can be controlled through a dial on the outside of the band.
Iíll admit to being skeptical when I first heard about the ReliefBand. After all, I have seen other "anti-seasickness" wristband gizmos come down the pike touting miracle-like cures, and none of them seemed to work very well. Granted, these earlier bands relied on pressure applied to the wrist nerves, not electrical pulses, but they had nonetheless soured me on the idea that anything other than a pill or patch could cure seasickness.
But being the intrepid outdoor reporter that I am, I thought it my duty to investigate. So I contacted the maker of the ReliefBand, Woodside Biomedical, who sent me several of the devices to test "in the field." With a series of offshore party boat trips on my docket, I was sure to find plenty of subjects for my unofficial tests.
The first outing turned out to be a real belly-churner. After running some 60 miles into the Gulf of Mexico, we found ourselves in ten- to 12-foot seas. I looked around for some volunteers, and soon came up with Cricket Brown of Greenwood, Mississippi. My first guinea pig!
After trying the ReliefBand on its lowest power setting, Brown said she felt somewhat better in less than ten minutes. "By the middle of the day I was almost completely over my seasickness," she recalls. "I was able to fish and have a good time with the rest of the party.
"The bandís initial shock surprised me. It was like touching a low-voltage electric fence. Each time the band pulsed, my hand and wrist would tingle, but the feeling wasnít unpleasant."
George Milam of Jackson, Mississippi, also tried the ReliefBand on the same trip. "After I put it on, I felt much calmer, and the nausea went away. I wore it for about 20 or 30 minutes before giving it to someone else who needed it."
Two days later, a third test subject presented itself in the form of Denise Smith of Pascagoula, Mississippi, who had never fished offshore before. "It was the first time Iíd had a problem with seasickness," she said. "Weíd been out for a little while and the water was fairly calm, but when I stood up, I suddenly felt very nauseous and dizzy. However, within 15 minutes of putting on the ReliefBand, I felt fine."
I had never seen anyone recover from seasickness while still at sea, so the results of my informal tests were surprising, to say the least. Maybe there was something to this electric-shock thing after all.
Motion sickness affects ten to 20 percent of the U.S. population, almost 50 million people. It occurs when an individualís sense of equilibrium becomes out of balance with the visual sense. Dizziness and nausea usually follow.
According to Woodside Biomedical, the ReliefBand works by applying electrical pulses to nerves in the wrist that travel to the brain and trigger the production of specific neurotransmitters that block the effects of motion-induced nausea and dizziness. Researchers have conducted several studies about how the ReliefBand affects motion sickness, including one by Dr. Ken Koch at Pennsylvania State Universityís Hershey Medical Center. Koch wanted to determine how the ReliefBandís electrical stimulation at the P6 acupuncture point, located on the underside of the wrist along the median nerve, affected nausea and gastric myoelectrical activity induced while viewing a rotating optokinetic drum, which would give the illusion of random, disorienting motion. Using electrodes to record myoelectrical activity, Dr. Koch concluded that "electrical stimulation of P6 using the ReliefBand resulted in less nausea ... increased normal myoelectrical activity and decreased combined tachygastria-duodenal activity."
Another study, also conducted by Dr. Koch, along with Senqi Hu and Robert M. Stern, also used an optokinetic drum to induce the effects of motion sickness in test subjects, in this case graduate students. When they began to feel queasy, the students stimulated themselves via electro-acupuncture (the premise behind the ReliefBand). The study revealed that "electrical acustimulation by the students reduced the symptoms of motion sickness and also reduced gastric tachyarrthymia (higher than normal gastric activity), which other research had shown to be associated with nausea and other symptoms of motion sickness."
Even though the ReliefBand has only recently hit the marketplace, research began in the early í80s. The device was invented in the late í80s by Larry Bertolucci, an avid deep-sea fisherman and Stanford-trained physical therapist. Aware that stimulation of nerves on the underside of the wrist had been shown to reduce or eliminate nausea and vomiting, Bertolucci invented a watch-like device that would electrically stimulate those nerves. He first tested the prototypes on himself and then on other fishermen, all with great success.
In 1997, interested parties established Woodside Biomedical, Inc. to make the ReliefBand available to consumers. ReliefBand devices are available in prescription and non-prescription versions. The company recommends the non-prescription variety for motion sickness. The RB-EX, known as the Explorer, has a replaceable battery and costs between $140 and $160.
Through my crude field tests, Iíve learned that the ReliefBand affects different people in different ways. When set at full power, some people barely felt the sensation while others found the shocks extremely unpleasant.
Iím highly skeptical of any products that tout seasickness cures. I donít believe in secret elixirs, whether theyíre meant to catch more fish or solve a medical ailment. However, after seeing the ReliefBand work on every person I have tried it onónot only for seasickness, but nausea in generalóI have to say that Iím a believer. In fact, I now take one with me on every fishing trip. This small, simple device may allow thousands of people who once lived in fear of boating and fishing to get out on the water.