Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Reply to comment

secaldwe's picture

Oops, there goes my lunch...

I have suffered from violent motion sickness for all of my life. I can’t read in the car, I can’t read on a train and as I learned this past summer, I CANNOT deal with life on a cruise ship. (Oh well, I’ll never be a sea captain…) As discussed in class, puking is the nervous system’s generalized response when it can’t locate the source of a problem. But why? Why do we barf automatically? Jessica mentioned simply feeling a headache. I get that too, but mine is always accompanied by a rising gorge, followed by a car rapidly pulling over or better yet, me ralphing into one of those wax-lined “barf bags” from airplanes. Does the throbbing behind the temples trigger said automated response? I took this opportunity to look up “vomit” in various online journals and learned that the sensation known as nausea does not always lead to forceful expulsion of one’s stomach contents. In fact, we vomit mostly due to increase ICP (intracranial pressure). Who knew?


Receptors in the medulla are the source of the unpleasant sensation. Though we are not entirely sure which neurotransmitters actually regulate vomiting, we know that some prescription drugs reduce the risk by inhibiting dopamine, serotonin and histamine. None of this, however, explains Jessica’s fascinating query about thrill rides. My father pukes after any loopy roller coasters. I could ride them for hours on end. Quick story: while vacationing at Universal Studios, FL, ride operators allowed me and a friend to remain on the Mummy ride (a backwards roller coaster in the dark with strobe lights) for five consecutive runs without getting off because we were cute and had these fast passes from our on-site hotel. I didn’t once feel a wave of nausea, even though I had consumed a funnel cake and perhaps an alcoholic beverage or two not twenty minutes prior to this experience. What gives? I am at a loss. I’m sure if I tried to read on the ride, I would have tossed my cookies but just plain getting on an airplane makes me want to wretch. Is that similar to the space shuttle? Is pressurized air a factor?


To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.
2 + 3 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.