Key Points about Mal de Debarquement Syndrome (MdDS)

  • MdDS occurs after traveling by air or land for a period of time.
  • MdDS is related to how the body adapts – or fails to adapt – to the removal of the repetitive motion to which your body became accustomed during the period of travel.
  • There is no test to diagnose MdDS, so your ENT doctor will ask you questions about the symptoms and work to understand the patterns of your MdDS episodes.
  • Your ENT doctor may prescribe certain medicines or vestibular therapy to help you find relief from your symptoms.

Overview

Translated as “sickness of disembarkment,” mal de debarquement syndrome (MdDS) is the illusion of movement after movement has stopped.  It is caused by exposure and then removal of movement. Many people deal with MdDS after air or sea travel. Typically, MdDS resolves itself within 24 hours. However, for some patients, it can last for months or years.

Mal de Debarquement Syndrome causes

MdDS occurs when your body has been moving for some period of time, and then the movement ends, such as after air or sea travel. Some researchers believe that a problem in the brain causes MdDS, while others believe it is an inner ear problem.

Mal de Debarquement Syndrome risk factors

The only known risk factor for MdDS is being a woman in middle age.

Mal de Debarquement Syndrome symptoms

Symptoms for Mal de Debarquement Syndrome include rocking, swaying and loss of balance. Some people also experience anxiety or depression. For most people with the condition, symptoms intensify when lying down or under stress.

Mal de Debarquement Syndrome diagnosis

There is no specific test to diagnose MdDS. Your doctor will speak with you about your health history in general and ask questions related to this condition in particular. If you have repeatedly experienced MdDS symptoms after traveling by sea or air, it is likely a diagnosis of Mal de Debarquement Syndrome will occur.

Mal de Debarquement Syndrome treatment

Your ENT specialist may use one or more of the following treatments to help manage your MdDS:

  • Your doctor may prescribe a motion sickness medicine to help manage your symptoms. Other medicines – such as valium or antidepressants – have also been shown to help control MdDS symptoms.
  • Vestibular rehabilitation — Your ENT doctor may recommend you attend sessions to work with a vestibular rehabilitation therapist, who has specialized training in balance problems and can help you learn strategies to cope with your MdDS episodes.

When to seek care

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing an ENT doctor for more specialized treatment.