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People are reporting vertigo, dizziness and nausea after Friday’s 4.8 magnitude East Coast earthquake. Here’s why.

A 4.8 magnitude earthquake hit New Jersey on Friday morning, shaking the Garden State and sending lesser rattles through New York City and other parts of the Northeast. In its wake, people in the affected areas have taken to social media to report symptoms like dizziness, vertigo, nausea and just generally feeling a bit weird. While some Californians are dismissing East Coasters’ complaints, there’s real scientific evidence that earthquakes — even minor ones — can have some odd effects on our bodies.

What does research say about this, how long do symptoms typically last and what can people who are still feeling off do? Here’s what to know.

Can earthquakes cause dizziness, nausea and other symptoms?

In short, yes. In fact, one study published in 2021 went so far as to call similar symptoms “post-earthquake dizziness syndrome.” More than 42% of the 3,656 people that Japanese researchers surveyed in the 12 weeks following massive earthquakes in Kumamoto in 2016 said they felt an “illusion sway” after the quakes. What the study authors called an “illusion sway” involved a range of symptoms, including vertigo, dizziness and the sensation of swaying or moving while holding still on solid ground.

Another study found “disturbances in equilibrium function” following a magnitude 9 earthquake that struck Japan in 2011. People there reported balance issues for weeks and even months after the quake. Research has shown spikes in rates of mental health problems in the aftermath of earthquakes, including increases in reports of anxiety, PTSD and mood disorders, as well as sleep issues.

It’s worth noting that research on these post-earthquake symptoms was done in the aftermath of much larger earthquakes than the one that hit New Jersey on Friday.

Earthquakes disrupt the vestibular system and put us off-kilter

What people experience during and after earthquakes is, effectively, motion sickness, Larry Brown, a professor of geophysics at Cornell University, tells Yahoo Life. “It’s kind of like being seasick on a boat: Your body is not expecting it when the ground starts to move, and that can be very destabilizing,” he says.

That destabilization happens because your sense of physical place and balance is getting thrown for a loop. When there is unexpected movement, it can throw off our vestibular system, which takes in sensory information to tell us where in space our head is and how it’s moving in order to tell us how to maintain balance, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

But feeling waves under us while we’re in the cabin of a boat, or standing on ground that’s shaking amid an earthquake, creates a “conflict” in the sensory information that that system is using to help us balance, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Our eyes tell us the world around us looks like it should be stable, but our head may bob up and down or side to side with the motion, creating the sensation of movement. Those mixed signals throw off our balance and lead to nausea and dizziness.

Post-earthquake dizziness and vertigo shouldn’t last long

Brown tells Yahoo Life that symptoms like dizziness should dissipate quickly — in a matter of minutes to hours — after an earthquake. But, he notes, a few factors could make dizziness worse or longer-lasting. For one, people who are at a higher level in a building will feel the effects of an earthquake more acutely, he says. Plus, some people are naturally more prone to motion sickness, so they’ll likely be more sensitive to the tremors of an earthquake.

What to do to relieve post-earthquake symptoms

There isn’t enough research on post-earthquake symptoms to suggest treatments specific to them. But, since these symptoms are effectively caused by motion sickness, the same methods used to treat that may work to alleviate unpleasant sensations after an earthquake.

Training your eyes on something distant, like the horizon, lying down, or sipping cold or hot liquids may help bring relief from an earthquake “hangover,” Dr. Munetaka Ushio of the University of Tokyo Hospital told the Wall Street Journal in 2011. If the symptoms persist, you could also try motion sickness pills, he added.

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