how to stop feel seasick when swimming
Credit: Remy Whiting
Training > Injuries

How to prevent motion sickness and nausea when swimming

Do you feel seasick while swimming? Suffering from motion sickness and nausea can be fairly common for swimmers. Here, John Wood explores the causes and remedies…

Suffering from motion sickness and nausea is fairly common among swimmers, especially in the open water. But it is also possible to suffer from motion sickness in the pool. One reason for this is that you may be excessively moving your head around. Along with slowing you down and making life more difficult, the additional movement from the head will disturb your internal balance systems, which can quite easily cause nausea or dizziness.

The fix for this is to focus your eyes on a line on the bottom of the pool and concentrate on good posture. The only time this should change is when you go to breathe. The reduced head movement should help you feel more comfortable and help you swim quicker.

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If you feel seasick in open water you may be attempting to sight more often than you need to, which will disorient you more than it will help. Sighting too often can either be through fear of not being able to see anything, or worries about swimming in a straight line. In an ideal world, you shouldn’t need to sight more than once every 8-10 strokes – if you have confidence in your straight-line abilities, you could go longer. Sighting more often than this will use far more energy and cause more stress. 

How to sight and breathe in open water

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Another cause of motion sickness in the water can be a change of pressure in your inner ear. Wearing ear plugs should stop water getting in and causing the pressure change. As a result, it can reduce the chances of feeling ill. Follow the package instructions with ear plugs and never push them deep into your ear canal.

Other things that can influence nausea when swimming are your levels of hydration and food intake. Make sure that you're hydrated before you swim as being dehydrated, especially when working hard and sweating, can lead to feelings of sickness in the water. Equally, eating very late before swimming can create nausea in some people, while low blood sugar caused by no food is never fun! That said, the idea that you might physically cramp up if you don’t wait three hours to swim after eating is an old wives' tale!

Finally, solely for swimming in open water, if you do start to feel nauseous, the best thing to do is to look towards something fixed – whether that's the bottom of the sea or the horizon. Focusing on something that's still and not moving with any swell/waves (i.e. not the buoys/markers) can help settle the brain. Anecdotally, distracting the brain can also help, whether that’s thinking of your technique etc, or whether you sing a song in your head! 

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