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What Is Disembarkment Syndrome?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated Feb 04, 2024
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Disembarkment syndrome is a type of health issue that sometimes affects people who travel by air or on water. Sometimes referred to as Mal de Debarquement Syndrome, the condition essentially involves an inability to readjust to walking on land after leaving a ship or airliner. The severity of the symptoms associated with this ailment may be somewhat mild and fade very quickly, or be more severe and persist for some time after the disembarkment takes place.

The symptoms of disembarkment syndrome are much like the discomforts that some travelers experience when first boarding a ship or airliner, in that the body is attempting to adjust from a relatively stable walking environment to one in which there is some degree of constant motion occurring. Just as passengers may take a little time to adjust the swaying of a ship as it moves through a large body of water, those same passengers may find that it takes some time to re-acclimate to being on land. During this period of adjustment, the former passengers may experience a form of motion sickness that is based on the lack of motion underfoot rather than the constant motion that is usually the reaction known as seasickness. The individual may have difficulty standing and feel somewhat dizzy until the brain is able to adjust to the new circumstances.

Other symptoms may also be manifested as the result of disembarkment syndrome. Some travelers will experience fatigue after leaving the ship or airliner. Others may feel that their bodies are swaying even when they are not. Still others may find that the quality of vision is temporarily blurry. With severe situations, the sense of vertigo may be so strong as to bring on nausea and possibly vomiting. There is also the possibility of feeling disoriented, making it difficult for the individual to focus on participating in a conversation or even being able to speak coherently.

The severity of the disembarkment syndrome may be somewhat slight or very pronounced. It is not unusual for some passengers to experience a short period of difficulty walking on land after being at sea for some time. While there may be some amount of vertigo present during this period, a mild case can normally be managed with relatively little distress, possibly by lying down until the sense of still being in motion passes. More severe manifestations of disembarkment syndrome may require treatment by a physician, with the treatment often focusing on managing the symptoms until the body and brain have the chance to adjust.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WiseGeek, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By anon1002175 — On Sep 22, 2019

My son in law has had severe symptoms for six weeks now. He's had an ECG MRI and last week an EEG as the other tests all came back normal. They are now saying he needs to see a neurologist.

He has been so bad that he cannot function at all and cannot bear any kind of stimulant, e.g., voices, TV, radio, light etc. He has spent most of the time confined to the bedroom and is now very depressed as no one seems to have any answers for him and he can't see an end to his situation. He paces when he can as he says it helps a little for him to be moving, as he feels he's moving all the time anyway. The future looks bleak if this is the final diagnoses as he won't be able to work, drive or function normally.

By anon961225 — On Jul 15, 2014

I have been suffering with dizziness for two months now. I went on an 11-day cruise for my honeymoon and two days after getting off the boat, I began to get this dizziness. I have been for blood tests, CT scans, etc., and everything has come back fine. Could I have this Disembarkment Syndrome?

By anon927813 — On Jan 26, 2014

I've had the symptoms of this for quite a while and I was watching television one day and mystery diagnosis came on. A woman was describing her symptoms that she was experiencing for years and it fit my symptoms 100 percent. They diagnosed her with this and I'm very sure I have it. It explains it all. Unfortunately, I've had it for over six years and I'm only 18 years old.

Hopefully it will wear off in the future, but for me, since I've had it for so long, its almost normal for me to feel this way on a normal 24/7 basis. It's definitely not fun, and it makes certain things and movements hard without feeling worse, but for me, it's normal.

By stoneMason — On May 29, 2013

Disembarkment syndrome is a form of vertigo. Seamen are familiar with it, it's usually called "sea legs" among fisherman.

It's usually not a cause of worry, like the article said, the body is adjusting to land. It goes away on its own in a short period of time.

By fBoyle — On May 29, 2013

I just got back from a cruise and the world seems to be swaying back and forth. Is there anything I can do to treat it?

By discographer — On May 28, 2013

This happened to me several years ago after an international flight. I had no idea at the time though that it's called disembarkment syndrome.

After the flight landed in China and I set foot on ground, I completely lost my balance. For close to one week, it felt like the ground under my feet was moving. I also felt nauseated.

I did go to a doctor there and was told that my ear pressure was affected from the flight and that I would adjust with time. As I was told, the symptoms disappeared after a week, but it was a very hard week for me.

So is disembarkment syndrome really caused by changing ear pressure or was the doctor talking about something else?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
Learn more
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