Do you know someone who has complained of getting vertigo after a cruise?

There is a phenomenon called Mal de Debarquement Syndrome (MdDS) that affects people after they get off a boat, a plane, a long car ride or a train. Traveling by boat or cruise ship is the most commonly reported activity that precedes these symptoms.

People with MdDS complain of a rocking, swaying or off balance feeling immediately after disembarking from their transportation. The rocking feeling may be relieved by movement and feel worse while the person is remaining still, like lying in bed.

One patient I saw who got vertigo after a cruise said she only felt normal when she was rocking, so she purchased a rocking chair and spent most of her free time rocking on it to find relief. Typically, this often occurs in people who have high levels of anxiety, stress and fatigue.

There is research going on today by Dr. Cha in Oklahoma, USA, and Dr. Dai in New York, USA, to develop treatments for these persistent feelings of rocking because the treatment options for these patients is limited, as of 2019.

For someone who has a feeling of rocking after returning from a boat, plane, or train ride, or a long car trip, the first step is to report your symptoms to your Primary Care physician.

You may take a “wait and see” approach if recommended by your doctor because these feelings can subside after a few days to weeks in many people. In some cases, the symptoms last for months to years and can be very limiting.

Some patients report relief with the use of SSRI medications, which can be prescribed by your primary care doctor or a psychiatrist.

Another valuable step to take if you get vertigo after a cruise is to get evaluated by a Vestibular Specialist. One research study found that communication problems between the brain and the inner ear were likely to blame for the MdDS symptoms.

Additionally, I have seen a few patients with a “rocking feeling” and their symptoms resolved after treatment for bilateral BPPV was completed for both their right and left ears. Some other vestibular rehabilitation exercises, like grounding and sensory integration training, may be helpful to reduce the rocking feelings.

The next step if the feelings persist is to seek out care at a MdDS specialty center, either in Oklahoma, USA, or New York, USA.

The treatments for MdDS are still being developed and refined, but many patients are having successful outcomes at these specialized treatment centers.

If you experience MdDS, it is recommended for you to avoid the activity which triggered your symptoms, if possible.

I hope this blog was helpful if you have vertigo after a cruise.


This blog is provided for informational purposes only. The content and any comments by Dr. Kim Bell, DPT are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. The details of any case mentioned in this post represent a typical patient that Dr. Bell might see and do not describe the circumstances of a specific individual.

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