Weirdest motion sickness ever, or something to worry about?
September 8, 2011 7:26 PM   Subscribe

Something very weird is going on. I either have the weirdest case of motion sickness ever, or something so strange I can't puzzle it out is happening.

So, every other day I have class or teach. I take my local light rail to campus, which involves driving 4 min, then taking a train about 30 min each way. I have been doing this pretty regularly for the last 2+ years, and have never had a problem with it until this semester.

Starting the first Monday of this semester, I went down to campus at 1pm, and came home about 6:30ish. I ate at about 1:30ish. On the way home on the train, I started getting light headed, sweating, and nauseous. It lasted past me getting off the train, driving home, and so I ate something fast, then lay down and took a nap until much later that night. When I woke up, I thought "Oh, I must have just let my blood sugar get too low" and thought nothing else of it.

Until the next Monday. I went down to campus at 1, ate at about 1:30 or 2, and because class lasted the full time, left at about 7:15. Well, same thing. I started getting light headed, sweating, and nauseous on the train ride home. So, I did the same thing. Ate something when I got home, took a nap, and felt better.

The Tuesday and Thursday of both those weeks, I had to teach at 4-5:15, so I went down, did my office hours at 1, and came home after teaching. Both weeks, I was fine. So I thought, OK, I'm doing something different on Mondays.

Until this week. Monday we didn't have class. Tuesday, I only went to teach, not hold office hours. Today, however. I went down at about 2, ate, taught at 4, then came home. And low and behold, on the train on the way home, I started to feel nauseous and sweaty, light headed and my stomach started to cramp. I stopped at the store, got some Dramamine, took it, and went to bed. I woke up feeling slightly better until a little bit ago, when I ate. At which point, I started feeling sick again.

Again, this is ONLY happening on my way home, not on my way to campus, and isn't happening every time on my way home. I can't figure out a pattern. I'm not eating the same thing those days, I'm not eating at the same time, or riding the same train. I'm at a loss.

Any ideas what this might be, hivemind? I know you aren't my doctor, and I will ask my doctor(s) about it the next time I go in (in two weeks). But until then, I need to figure out what to do about this. Any ideas?
posted by strixus to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I always feel susceptible to stuff like this when I'm tired. Tiredness exacerbates the littlest things, it seems. The days that you've felt sick, I've noticed, were days when you've worked longer hours than the other days. I might chalk it up to that.
posted by Sassyfras at 7:35 PM on September 8, 2011

Any chance you're pregnant?
posted by pupstocks at 7:35 PM on September 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

Do you read on the train regularly? Or, do you sometimes sit at the window and sometimes not? Reading in a moving car sometimes causes me an issue, but not always. Same thing with being able to look out the window.
posted by cabingirl at 7:41 PM on September 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Well, you've only got three data points so far, so I'm not sure it's fair to conclude that this is ONLY a homeward-journey phenomenon. Could you be unwittingly allergic to/sensitive to some sort of cleaner or other environmental component that's intermittently present on the train?

Also, what were you wearing and carrying on the days when you got sick? And any new cosmetics or perfumes?
posted by Bardolph at 7:44 PM on September 8, 2011

I was going to suggest reading as a possible cause myself. I can't even look at a map or send text messages for too long in a moving vehicle without tossing my cookies.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 7:48 PM on September 8, 2011

Response by poster: Ok, quick summary in reply to those who have answered before I go lay back down.

No more tired on those days than any other. I've been having a really bad case of insomnia again recently, but days with less sleep don't seem to correspond in any way.

Gods I hope I am not pregnant. I'm on a birth control I know works, and have not done anything to break it any time ever.

I read on the train nearly every day, either on my phone or my kindle. I never seem to have any trouble reading on the train, and if I stop or not when this sets in doesn't seem to matter. Nor does closing my eyes or looking out a window. I read in cars, planes, etc all the time - I've never had an issue with it unless the car was poorly ventilated.

I've thought about the cleaning product issue. I do have a NUMBER of nasty chemical sensitivities, but most of those either give me hives or trigger my asthma. Never had one like this. I don't wear any makeup or perfume - I'm pretty across the board allergic to all of them. As for clothes? Normal summer clothes - kakki long pants and Hawaiian shirt or a t-shirt, and carrying my normal backpack.

I had also considered heat an issue, but today was 70, max, so that didn't seem to be the problem today.
posted by strixus at 7:51 PM on September 8, 2011

Response by poster: Oh, also. I say it seems to be a homeward issue only because well, I've been commuting on this same train line for 2 years, and of the 3 times it has happened, it has only been on the way home.
posted by strixus at 7:52 PM on September 8, 2011

Motion sickness often results when the information about whether you are moving coming from your eyes contradicts the information coming from your inner ears.

My guess is that only on the days you get sick, you happen to be sitting in a motionless train looking out at a train on a parallel track which is close to you and is moving.

This give a compelling illusion that you are moving, but your inner ears say no, and you get sick.
posted by jamjam at 7:56 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not to freak you out too much, but getting light-headed, sweating, and nauseated can all be symptoms of a heart attack, especially in a woman. We don't always get the "elephant sitting on the chest, pain radiating to the left arm" thing that is classically described in men's heart attacks. I would urge you to call your doctor's office and try to get in sooner than 2 weeks from now. Given that you're feeling ok right now I guess I wouldn't go to the emergency room, but it could be that you are having intermittent blockages. Do you have any increase in physical activity prior to your ride home, like walking to the train?
posted by vytae at 7:59 PM on September 8, 2011

Do you consistently sit facing forwards or backwards? Any chance that like jamjam suggests this corresponds to what you are seeing?
Is there something about the trains (MARTA?), maybe scent wise, that builds up throughout the day so it's worse in the evening?
Are you eating anything different or storing it differently (hot/cold/etc) on the headache days?

Feel better!
posted by pointystick at 8:12 PM on September 8, 2011

That sounds an awful lot like what a panic attack might feel like. Any history of anxiety? Have you been especially stressed lately?
posted by crunchtopmuffin at 8:21 PM on September 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Could your blood sugars be out of whack? Did you have something sweet or more processed at lunch? That can cause a spike and then a dip in blood sugar levels. I am seconding the idea of seeing your doctor.
posted by annsunny at 8:21 PM on September 8, 2011

With increasing frequency this past year or two, I have also experienced the same set of symptoms -- a sudden rush of lightheadedness, sweating, and nausea -- which has almost led to fainting. In the absence of any plausible environmental or chronic health issues likely causing these symptoms, I am left with the explanation that this set of symptoms may be brought on by some combination of dehydration, iron deficiency, a drop in blood pressure, or stress. So if I were you, I would try to determine whether any number of these factors could possibly be contributing in your case.
posted by datarose at 8:28 PM on September 8, 2011

Some possible remedies to try: lying down or lowering the position of your head relative to your body (to bring blood back to your head, reducing lightheadedness if it's brought on by low blood pressure), drinking water (if it is due to dehydration), taking a multivitamin (if it is due to a mineral deficiency), or performing some mental relaxation exercises (if it is due to a sudden flare-up of stress or anxiety).
posted by datarose at 8:33 PM on September 8, 2011

I know you've said you've never had a problem reading before, but what you describe is almost exactly what happens to me when I read on transport. I feel fine for about ten minutes, and then suddenly my brain goes floaty, my body gets the chills, and I feel like if I move or breathe wrong, I'm going to throw up. A couple of times, I actually have thrown up a little.

This never happened when I was younger. I used to read the paper on the way to school every morning, and a book on the way home. But since I hit my early twenties, I haven't been able to read in a car, bus or ferry, and the only way I can read on a train is if I sit in the sideways seats (rather than the ones facing forwards or backwards).

I do think it's worth bringing these incidents up with a doctor, just in case, but reading could be the culprit.
posted by Georgina at 8:40 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

My first thought was preggers too... may be worth a cheap over-the counter test? Best wishes!
posted by Jayed at 9:15 PM on September 8, 2011

Thoughts that went through my head when reading this:

Low blood sugar- Are you eating a lot of carbs on the days you don't feel well? Grain, corn, sugar, potatoes, fruit? What about caffeine, it can cause a blood sugar drop. Are you having adequate protein when you eat?

Toxic Shock Syndrome - Tampons? Pantyhose? Underwear that's not cotton?

Newly developed food allergies - is there any common denominator food on those days?

Food poisoning - again, any common foods?

What it sound most like to me is Toxic Shock, based on the sweating and nausea. But I am not a doctor, I'm speaking based on my own experience.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:26 PM on September 8, 2011

I think you have gotten some good guesses about possible causes here and think you definitely should check with a doctor and also make sure you are not pregnant prior to searching further for answers.

I am prone to motion sickness, and, as others suggest, your symptoms do sound similar to what I have experienced. I also sometimes get these type of symptoms if I am overtired or if I am starting to get a migraine. Low blood sugar is another thought.

Have you tried making sure you are hydrated and also eating a snack in the afternoon - say around 5:00 or 5:30 or so? I have found that eating a banana around that time or a bit of a protein snack will help my blood sugar and also make me less prone to motion sickness.
posted by gudrun at 9:35 PM on September 8, 2011

Dramamine is an old remedy for motion sickness, and there are now newer drugs. You could ask a pharmacist for a recommendation and carry it with you. Try taking it an hour or so before your train ride home, every trip, and see if your symptoms disappear.

Also, how's the ventilation on the train? Is the air stale on the ride home?
posted by exphysicist345 at 11:03 PM on September 8, 2011

I have a similar commute (30 minutes of riding with five to seven minutes of walking on either end) and I have come very close to fainting on the train three or four times in three years, always on my way in to work. I also have no history of motion sickness in vehicles, even when reading.

Each time that I almost fainted, I was standing, the air was warm and close (lots of people, no ventilation), and I suspect my blood sugar was low. Also, it's easy to get stuck in a feedback loop where you're so worried you're going to faint again that you start feeling more faint, etc.

Unfortunately I can't pinpoint a cause, but the things I do to avoid it are:
- Travel when I know the train will be less crowded so I can get a seat
- Take off my coat as soon as I get on
- Carry a water bottle with very cold water
- Avoid carbs before travelling so I don't have a blood sugar spike/crash
- Try to eat something with protein and fat for breakfast (like some cheese or yoghurt)
posted by neushoorn at 12:11 AM on September 9, 2011

The symptoms you've described pretty well match motion sickness; I know it seems like a 'waste' of your time, but perhaps skip reading on the train (whether on your phone, kindle, newspapers, or anything else: no reading whatsoever).

Also consider it seems to follow a several-hours-long gap since your last meal; perhaps it IS low blood sugar. Maybe keep a few power bars handy.
posted by easily confused at 3:47 AM on September 9, 2011

Anxiety? I had something VERY similar happen to me back in April.

Just out of the blue one day after work, standing on the train on my way home: I got a bit dizzy, felt freaked out, claustrophobic. Worried I was going to faint or cause a scene or who knows what. I had to get off the train (we were underground at the time). I felt weird for about a week after that (I attribute it to when you pay TOO close attention to your body and suddenly everything looks or feels weird).

Anyway, I had never ever had anything like that happen to me before. The closest was when I once had to be pulled out of the pit at a rock show that had gotten too crushing & rough. I was paranoid there was something wrong with me, but all I can figure at this point was that something was just a little off enough to trigger what I believe was a panic attack. Being underground, crowded, tired, blood sugar......who knows? Sometimes our bodies are an anti-wonderland. I would speak to your doctor if this continues to happen even after any changes to your routine.
posted by Windigo at 7:09 AM on September 9, 2011

Is the train you get sick on the same one every time, like it leaves at the same time? Do they use the same exact train for the X pm train every day? If so, then there may be something on that one particular train that is maybe not the cleaning supplies but might be something like the particular carpeting, the particular upholstery fabric, or whatever, that is causing you to feel poorly.

Do you always ride in the same car of the train, like the first or last because it is closer to the exit at your stop? Try changing that, make sure you're facing forward, make sure you're well-hydrated.
posted by mareli at 12:59 PM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you have some chemical sensitivities, you might want to check with the transit company and see if they use any pesticides on those trains. It's very likely that they do, and those things can make sensitive people feel quite sick.
posted by Corvid at 2:00 PM on September 9, 2011

I'd take note of any number that distinguishes one train for another traveling the same route. Perhaps they bug-bombed one that happens to be delivering you home on Monday nights.
posted by Foam Pants at 3:52 PM on September 9, 2011

Late to the game here, but since getting a smartphone I've learned that screen scrolling + bus riding = crazy nausea. I used to get moderately car sick if I read a book on the bus, but it's pretty immediate now with devices with scrolling screens. I think the different speeds of the scrolling and the the world passing by the window outside makes my brain freak out.
posted by Maarika at 8:27 AM on September 11, 2011

I get motion sickness too, and get the exact same symptoms you describe - but only when I read. So, I'm nthing everyone above that says reading's the culprit.

Seriously, it sucks. I've tried traveling across Europe by train for months and I was fine as long as I didn't read anything - and if I did, I could not do so successfully if I could see what was happening outside of the train (if it was nighttime and dark or I was passing through the Chunnel, for example). Only once did I get seriously ill on the Europe trip because of my preference to travel between cities overnight, and this is probably why.

I recently traveled via bullet train/Shinkansen in Japan and was fine on the trip down to Fukuoka (2.5 hours), but on the way back, I foolishly browsed a travel book. Halfway through the trip back to Tokyo, I was shaking, sweaty, nauseous - almost the same feeling when I'm about to vomit due to a hangover - incredibly weak, dizzy, panting, feeling like I needed to put my head between my knees, almost a blackout/fainting sensation, etc.

I puked in the train station when we arrived. Afterwards, I laid down in our apartment for 40 minutes, got up, chugged a bottle of water, felt fine, went out drinking/eating for several hours with friends and had no recurrence of symptoms.

It's the reading that's doing this to you, I think. Note that I have never experienced motion sickness or any of the abovementioned symptoms when traveling by plane; I've only experienced them on trains/automobile rides. And motion sickness doesn't happen every single time I read, either - but it ONLY happens when I read; I've been experimenting and sneaking around trying to pinpoint all the different factors, but it's not worth it.

(Until Japan, I was certain that I'd never really experienced motion sickness on a train, either, but now I'm positive that reading did it to me that one time in Austria. I learned not to read in the car ages ago. Bummer, too, reading's my favorite pastime.)
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 12:30 PM on September 11, 2011

Response by poster: Good news, everyone!

On Monday I had a repeat of this, but this time it was when I was walking out to the bus stop to head to campus. And then it decided not to go away for 2 days. Bugger this, I said.

I managed to see a doctor today after bullying my way past the scheduler. According to the doc, I've either got two things going on simultaneously, or one of the two things is creating symptoms of both. It is either a) a gallbladder problem, or b) vertigo. I was given medicine for both, and they seem to be working. We will put it to a real test tomorrow when I go to campus.

And no, not pregnant. I made them run the damned test twice to be sure since so many people - including my own mother - thought it might be the case.
posted by strixus at 11:01 PM on September 14, 2011

Response by poster: Well, the gallbladder is normal. It seems this is nothing more than vertigo. It seems to be getting better, so we will see.
posted by strixus at 10:39 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older Do you recognize this painting?   |   Dental surgury options for a toddler? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.