Signs of Mal de Debarquement Syndrome and How to Treat It


Patients suffering from mal de debarquement syndrome (MdDS) may be experiencing persistent feelings of movement for weeks, months, or even years. While MdDS often resolves on its own, it is recommended that you visit a doctor if your episode has lasted over a month. At Chesapeake Ear Nose & Throat in Baltimore, MD, our knowledgeable and compassionate physicians can evaluate your condition and recommend methods to help you manage the insomnia, imbalance, and stress associated with MdDS.

What is Mal de Debarquement Syndrome?

MdDS is a rare condition that usually occurs after debarking a boat that has been on the ocean. Although it’s not uncommon to have difficulty getting your land legs back after a trip at sea, for most people, the lingering feeling of a swaying motion subsides within a few minutes to a few hours. However, MdDS causes patients to experience the feeling of a constant rocking or swaying motion that can be both felt and seen. People with MdDS often relate it to feeling like continually walking on a trampoline.

blurry room

The effects of MdDS can be both felt and seen by sufferers.

Signs and Symptoms of MdDS

Although Ménière's disease can also cause balance disorders and similar sensations, it is usually followed by bouts of dizziness or vertigo along with hearing loss. The swaying or motion sickness usually subsides within 24 hours. Unlike vertigo, the symptoms of MdDS cannot be treated with motion sickness medications. 

The symptoms of MdDS include:

  • A rocking, swaying, or bobbing sensation
  • Difficulty walking
  • Imbalance
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Confusion

Your symptoms may wane when riding in a car, boat, or train, but once the motion stops, symptoms reoccur. People often complain of symptoms worsening with stress, fatigue, intense visual activity, or being enclosed in small spaces.

Unlike vertigo, the symptoms of MdDS cannot be treated with motion sickness medications. People with MdDS often relate it to feeling like continually walking on a trampoline.

How is MdDS Diagnosed?

Because MdDS is a rare condition that has effects similar to other common disorders, it can be difficult to diagnose immediately. During your consultation, one of our ENTs will perform a series of tests that may include:

  • Blood work
  • Hearing exam
  • Brain scan
  • Evaluation of your nervous system
  • Evaluation of your balance (vestibular system)

When symptoms last longer than a month and the doctor has ruled out vertigo, Ménière's disease, or some other inner ear condition, you may be diagnosed with MdDS.

Common Causes of MdDS

Riding on a boat or cruise ship in the ocean is the most common cause of MdDS, but it can also be caused by:

  • Riding in a car, train, or plane
  • Sleeping in a water bed
  • Using virtual reality
  • Riding in an elevator
  • Walking on a dock

Successfully Treating and Managing MdDS

There is no “one size fits all” treatment plan for MdDS. Some of the current methods of treatment include:

  • Medications used to treat anxiety, depression, and insomnia
  • Vestibular physical therapy exercises to improve balance and steadiness
  • Self-care through stress management, exercise, and plenty of rest
  • Brain stimulation therapy to reformat your brain waves 

Though the condition is rare and the current treatments are limited, patients who have undergone these treatments have been able to improve their quality of life. The good news is that most cases resolve themselves within a year. 

Book a Consultation

If you are experiencing symptoms of MdDS, book an appointment with a specialist. Please contact our office today online or call (410) 356-2626 to schedule your consultation.