Can A $12 Bracelet Cure Motion Sickness?

photographed by Ashley Armitage.
As someone who gets carsick in a 10-minute Uber ride, I will try just about anything to prevent puking in a vehicle. Even when I stare at the horizon line, sit in the front seat, put away my phone, and sleep, I still get queasy. Recently, I've been watching this season of Below Deck Mediterranean, a reality TV show about working on a mega yacht, and noticed that a stewardess with relentless seasickness uses wristbands to help her barfing. The question is, would these bands work for motion sickness in a car, too?
To answer that question, it helps to know why motion sickness happens — which, most experts don't fully understand to begin with. The common theory is that motion sickness is caused by "sensory conflict or mismatch," says Maria Suurna, MD, FACS, otolaryngologist at New York-Presbyterian and Weil Cornell Medicine. When there's a discrepancy between visual, vestibular (what's happening in your inner ear), and proprioceptive (where your body is in space) stimuli, your brain can't keep up, and you may feel sick, she says. "It usually occurs due to exposure to physical or visual motion," she says.
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Most of us are familiar with the uncomfortable symptoms of motion sickness, like headache, nausea, vomiting, cold sweat, and vertigo. Once you're hit with these sensations, it becomes difficult to stop them, Dr. Suurna says. "The only way to cure it is to entirely avoid exposure to provocative situations," she says. But if you are in the midst of motion sickness, sometimes simply applying pressure to acupressure points on the wrist seems to relieve some of the nausea and vomiting associated with motion sickness, she says.
In traditional Asian medicine, there's an acupressure point called "P6" or "the nei kuan point," says Philip Chen, MD, assistant professor of rhinology and otolaryngology at UT Health San Antonio. Motion sickness bands are designed to provide sustained, gentle pressure to this point — located about two finger widths below the crease of the wrist on the same side as your palm, he says.
How exactly does this specific point un-do nausea? "It is believed that acupressure can stimulate or interrupt the energy within the meridians and alter the response to negative stimuli," Dr. Suurna says. But that's just one theory. While acupressure is used frequently in Eastern medicine, it's not well-documented in studies, so it's hard to say how effective it really is, she says. That said, Dr. Suurna and Dr. Chen agree that it's entirely possible that an acupressure band could help with carsickness.
Lots of people — especially pregnant people with morning sickness, those going through chemotherapy, and children — use these bands to manage symptoms without medication, which tend to make people drowsy or come with other unpleasant side effects. The most popular brands, Sea Bands and Psi Bands, are also super cheap, at under $12 a pop.
The bands are usually made from fabric, and have plastic studs that are supposed to line up with the P6 point. "Unless the band is too tight and cuts off circulation to the skin or hand, there isn't much downside to using acupressure bands," Dr. Chen says. Some companies use magnets in the bands, which are generally safe, Dr. Suurna says. "Individuals with implanted devices, such as pacemakers, should use caution with magnet-containing products," she says.
So, the next time you're going on a road trip, or just stuck in stop-and-go traffic for what feels like hours, consider pressing on your wrist and see if it helps. If it works, you may want to keep a pair of acupressure wristbands in your bag for emergencies. While they may not be the most fashionable wrist accessory around, they're chicer than puking, right?
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