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View Full Version : Why do seasick people turn green?


wevets
05-08-2006, 12:43 PM
I work on boats on the weekends, and one of the things I've noticed is that passengers who are very seasick will quite literally turn green. This past Saturday there was one person who I could tell was going to be very sick even before we got outside the Golden Gate Bridge - he developed green coloration around his eyes, which later spread to encompass his whole face, and I'm not just talking about a light green tinge - a very distinctive evil green color develops.

Why does this happen? What happens to a person's circulation? Why don't they just turn white?

Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor
05-08-2006, 01:19 PM
Hmm...good question.

Maybe good enough for Cecil.

I have no answers, but I'll bump this up, whilst marking it for my own future reference.

Hi, Neighbor!
05-08-2006, 01:59 PM
I always thought seasick people were merely portrayed with green faces in cartoons and such. But, after hearing your account, I find this very strange.

BobT
05-08-2006, 02:22 PM
When I've experienced motion sickness, I turn white. Well, I am white, but I become whiter. I assume the blood in my face heads somewhere else.

Cluricaun
05-08-2006, 02:57 PM
When I've experienced motion sickness, I turn white. Well, I am white, but I become whiter. I assume the blood in my face heads somewhere else.


Good point. Was the green turning person in question someone with an olive complexion? I could see olive going pale looking as perhaps a greenish tint.

wevets
05-08-2006, 03:52 PM
Good point. Was the green turning person in question someone with an olive complexion? I could see olive going pale looking as perhaps a greenish tint.

No, definitely not. He was very caucasian (er, if someone can be be described as "very" caucasian ;) ). No, people turn a very distinctive color - particularly around the eyes, at the cheekbones, and sometimes the forehead. It's not as though their face is uniformly green - but there is certainly a green color there. I guess it could be described as a sort of yellowish green - not the shade of grass or pine trees or mohitos.

I wish I could link to a picture, but I don't think people who are seasick would be very receptive to posing for photos, even in the name of science :D .

monstro
05-08-2006, 04:04 PM
I turn white when I'm getting that clammy-skinned, Oh-Gawd-I'm-About-to-Throw-Up feeling. Once, when I started feeling that way at a Donna Summer concert (I blame low blood sugar), my sister grabbed me and started yelling, "monstro is white!! monstro is WHITE!!"

I don't see how you caucasians make it to adulthood. ;)

Cluricaun
05-08-2006, 04:27 PM
I don't see how you caucasians make it to adulthood. ;)

Liberal helpings of mayonnaise. :D

racer72
05-08-2006, 07:22 PM
I worked on charter fishing boats for a couple of summers and saw more seasick folks than I care to remember. I don't recall any of them turning green though, most would become extremely pale. Fairer skinned people would develop a blue hue around the eyes and mouth. The lips and tongue of darker people would turn pinkish white. I use to have a picture of Maureen McCormick, Marcia of Brady Bunch fame looking a bit blue around the gills. She spent most of the day in the cabin fighting off seasickness, I never did see her barf though.

Richard Parker
05-09-2006, 01:48 AM
I have also witnessed someone in this condition; I would call the color blue-green.

Some time ago I was in a class where the teacher was dissecting a cow eyeball. During the procedure, the teacher cut open his finger with the scalpel. The smell of formaldehyde combined with gushing blood and visceral fluid was enough for one guy. His face was mostly white, but parts of it were a color that can only be described as blue-green--very much like the color of a vein (or at least my veins, which to my eyes are as much green as blue).

t-bonham@scc.net
05-09-2006, 02:26 AM
I believe people are being misled on this.

People suffering from seasickness & other types of nausea often have a reduced blood flow to the face. This will cause them to "turn all white". (For caucasians, at least.)

This often appears to observers as if they are 'turning green', because it is such a contrast with the pinkish skin color we accept as normal. There is a known phenomona in color vision, where if you stare at a bright colored area for a while, then look at a white page, you will see an after-image in the opposite color. (I can't remember the name for this.) But I think this explains why seasick people seem to turn green.

Another factor might be that seasick people are often near the rail, or even bent over it. Thus the reflected light from the sea would give them a greenish appearance.

Richard Parker
05-09-2006, 02:54 AM
I believe people are being misled on this.

People suffering from seasickness & other types of nausea often have a reduced blood flow to the face. This will cause them to "turn all white". (For caucasians, at least.)

This often appears to observers as if they are 'turning green', because it is such a contrast with the pinkish skin color we accept as normal. There is a known phenomona in color vision, where if you stare at a bright colored area for a while, then look at a white page, you will see an after-image in the opposite color. (I can't remember the name for this.) But I think this explains why seasick people seem to turn green.

Another factor might be that seasick people are often near the rail, or even bent over it. Thus the reflected light from the sea would give them a greenish appearance.


I don't think the phenomenon is adequately explained by either of your suppositions.

Your after-image explanation assumes, implausibly, that observers of the greenish hue were staring at the face of the nauseated person before he or she became nauseated; this is plainly not the case in each of the anecdotes in this thread.

As for the reflection of the sea, I think you'd find that most parts of the ocean do not reflect a greenish hue--and my example takes place in landlocked Colorado.

Colophon
05-09-2006, 09:37 AM
I think t-bonham is close to the mark. It's not an "after-image" thing, just a comparision with how people normally look. Green is the complementary colour of red, so it makes sense that if you remove red blood from a person's flesh, it will look "greener" than usual.

I have observed the same thing - people definitely DO look yellowish-green before they lean over the rail...

wevets
05-09-2006, 10:33 AM
I don't recall any of them turning green though, most would become extremely pale. Fairer skinned people would develop a blue hue around the eyes and mouth. The lips and tongue of darker people would turn pinkish white.

Yeah, I've seen some people turn white, but others turn distinctly green, which is what I'm puzzled about. Maybe I should try a Google Image search so I can show you what I mean...

wevets
05-09-2006, 10:55 AM
I believe people are being misled on this.

People suffering from seasickness & other types of nausea often have a reduced blood flow to the face. This will cause them to "turn all white". (For caucasians, at least.)

This often appears to observers as if they are 'turning green', because it is such a contrast with the pinkish skin color we accept as normal. There is a known phenomona in color vision, where if you stare at a bright colored area for a while, then look at a white page, you will see an after-image in the opposite color. (I can't remember the name for this.) But I think this explains why seasick people seem to turn green.

That sounds possible - could it happen even without staring at a white surface?

Another factor might be that seasick people are often near the rail, or even bent over it. Thus the reflected light from the sea would give them a greenish appearance.

This seems extremely unlikely to me - the person appeared that color while upright and in poor lighting conditions where reflected light off the sea was unlikely.


Also, a Google image searches for 'seasick face,' 'seasick' and 'green face,' I'm not sure if I'll find anything useful. If anyone has good Google-fu and wants to try it, I would welcome the help.

wevets
05-09-2006, 11:16 AM
I had to check and make sure I wasn't crazy, but Richard Parker and I aren't the only ones who see some green in it:


# Physiology of Pallor

Pallor is defined as a white or whitish-greenish hue to the skin. In motion sickness studies, it is most readily observed in the face; first it appears around the eyes, nose, and mouth progressing in some individuals to the severe pallor associated with circulatory collapse. Skin color changes, pallor or flushing, arise from altered vasomotor activity in the cutaneous circulation. Pallor is the result of vasoconstriction, whereas vasodilation produces flushing or reddening of the skin. Neural control of the skin vasculature is exclusively of sympathetic adrenergic origin; increased sympathetic activity causes vasoconstriction and inhibition or withdrawal of sympathetic activity results in vasodilation. CNS vasomotor control centers are located primarily in the floor of the fourth ventricle of the medulla, and are in turn controlled by hypothalamic centers. In addition, the hypothalamic centers receive modulating inputs from limbic structures, as well as from the cerebral cortex. Facial pallor may also be due, in part, to the increased levels of vasopressin (AVP) during motion sickness . High levels of AVP produce vasoconstriction in the skin . Finally, depending upon the type of stimulus, the vasoconstrictor response may be generalized, segmental, or regional

From this website (http://vehand.engr.ucf.edu/handbook/Chapters/Chapter36.html). I don't really get from the above why green would appear, though.

Still no luck with pictures.

gigi
05-09-2006, 04:06 PM
Green is the complementary colour of red, so it makes sense that if you remove red blood from a person's flesh, it will look "greener" than usual.

I have observed the same thing - people definitely DO look yellowish-green before they lean over the rail...And some folks have a blue tint to their skin, the complement being yellow. Makes sense!

Valgard
05-09-2006, 06:53 PM
I was sailing with some friends the other week and one person got pretty sick. She was pale but not green. Fed the fishies, that's for sure.

I'd never gotten seasick before but when I went down into the cabin and lost sight of the horizon (anything to give me a frame of reference for the motion of the ship) it took maybe 5 minutes for me to feel like I'd better get back on deck RIGHT NOW or I was going to hurl.

elelle
05-09-2006, 09:10 PM
In searching around a bit; I found an army study on flight simulator sickness (www.hqda.army.mil/ari/pdf/RR%201832.pdf) that says;

The cardinal symptom of MS is nausea. The cardinal signs are pallor, sweating, and vomiting (also called emesis). Nausea is the most commonly reported symptom. It begins with stomach awareness, progresses to queasiness, and then vomiting. Vomiting often leads to a temporary improvement in symptoms. Facial pallor and cold sweating are the most commonly reported signs of MS. In fair-complexioned persons facial skin takes on a whitish-greenish tint caused by vasoconstriction of the extremities. Cold sweating is sweating in the absence of an adequate thermal stimulus. That is, the ambient temperature is not warm and, therefore, cold sweating serves no useful thermal-regulatory function. Pallor and cold sweating reliably precede vomiting. Additional signs of MS are increased salivation, sighing, yawning, hyperventilation, burping, flatulence, and locomotor ataxia. In this context “ataxia” means postural instability or postural disequilibrium (e.g., Kennedy, Berbaum, & Lilienthal, 1997; Kolasinski, 1995). Additional symptoms are headache, depression, apathy, drowsiness, somnolence, and mental disorientation. Bolding mine.

Since this is for a flight simulator test, the greenish tinge over water wouldn't be a factor in the observation. Possible loophole: they might be quoting another source, but I'd think it would be edited for accuracy to the subject.

(Had a minor detour of links where I learned that Charles Darwin was plagued by sea sickness on his voyage on the Beagle)

Cliffy
05-10-2006, 01:24 AM
I observed someone turning a definite green while giving blood in a conference room on the 12th floor of a downtown office building with no waterway in sight. He was already pumping when I got in the chair and at that time he looked whiter than normal, but some minutes later his skin took on an unmistakeable green tint shortly before he passed out. (He recovered fine, BTW.)

--Cliffy

wevets
05-10-2006, 10:31 AM
So is there a lot of confidence in the 'green is the complementary color of red' reason for why we see green instead of other colors in some cases?

Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor
05-10-2006, 10:53 AM
So is there a lot of confidence in the 'green is the complementary color of red' reason for why we see green instead of other colors in some cases?

No.
See elelle's posts.

My money is on the formal study.

Surely there must be a comprehensive Naval study, though.

wevets
05-10-2006, 11:30 AM
I did see elelle's post. I guess I'm just not following why vasoconstriction = green color.

Fish
05-10-2006, 12:20 PM
At a guess: vasoconstriction causes decreased blood flow (http://cancerweb.ncl.ac.uk/cgi-bin/omd?query=vasoconstriction) but it doesn't stop the nearby tissues from continuing to demand oxygen. As the blood slows down it is deprived more quickly than usual of its oxygen and rapidly takes on its deoxygenated blue-green color.