What's Behind 'Cloverfield' Illness?

Wave of Nausea Hits Moviegoers

By Michael W. Smith
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 22, 2008 -- Scan the news and blogs and not only do you see that Cloverfield had a record-breaking opening weekend, but there was an unforeseen side effect: nausea. And it didn't come from the popcorn, or the writing -- but the camerawork.

In Cloverfield, a giant monster attacks Manhattan. The problem -- at least for those prone to motion sickness -- is that it's all filmed through a very jerky handheld camera.

"I saw it this weekend and was so sick to my stomach that I had to leave the theater," says Sara Butler, a WebMD programming manager. "I have a friend who's an EMT in New Jersey, and she was called to several theaters this weekend to deal with people who were sick."

While motion sickness is usually caused by plane, boat, or car movement, bumpy camerawork could definitely do it, too.

What Causes Motion Sickness?

Motion sickness occurs when the brain receives conflicting messages from the inner ear, the eyes, and other parts of the body.

While watching Cloverfield, viewers were sitting still in their seats, so their inner ear was telling their body they were motionless. But the bumpy camera movements -- and their eyes -- misled them into thinking they were moving around erratically.

These conflicting messages to the brain lead to symptoms of motion sickness, most notably nausea. Other symptoms include vomiting, headache, and sweating.

What Is the Treatment for Motion Sickness?

Obviously, the best treatment is to avoid situations that make you sick. But if that's not possible, there are a few things you can try. Also, if you're prone to motion sickness, remember that prevention is best because once symptoms start, relief is tough to find until motion stops.

  • If you love cruising but it doesn't love you, choose a center cabin where there is less movement.
  • On a boat or ship, stay on the deck and look at the horizon.
  • In an airplane, sit near the wings.
  • In a car, sit in the front seat and look through the window. Don't read or focus on an object inside the car.
  • Drive, don't ride. Drivers are less prone to motion sickness.

Motion Sickness Medications

Medications can be used to suppress the conflicting brain messages. No matter which type of medication you choose, it works best if taken before motion.

  • Antihistamines such as Benadryl, Antivert, and Dramamine, can prevent motion sickness. The main side effect is sedation. Newer, nonsedating antihistamines, such as Claritin, do not work for motion sickness.
  • Scopolamine is most commonly used as a patch that's applied every 72 hours. The main side effect is also sedation. For many people, scopolamine appears to be the most effective treatment and may cause less sedation than antihistamines.
  • Phenergan relieves nausea and is used to prevent and treat motion sickness.
  • Caffeine has been shown to help relieve motion sickness when combined with Phenergan.

Alternative Medicine for Motion Sickness

In one study, 1 to 2 grams of ginger relieved motion sickness in naval cadets. Acupressure has been shown to be effective for motion sickness in some. Though magnets have been touted for relieving motion sickness, there's currently no proof to suggest they're of any benefit.

SOURCES: Wire reports. UpToDate: Motion Sickness.

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