It’s the most wonderful time of the year… no, not Christmas, and no, not the first day back to school (although that’s coming soon!)… but… vacation season! That means traveling with your children by car, plane, or train, or airplane to get to your destination.
Motion sickness is caused by the brain receiving mixed signals from different parts of our body that are sensing the motion — namely the inner ear, the eyes, and the nerves to the extremities. When these signals are inconsistent with each other (i.e., one sensing motion and one not), the brain activates a response that makes people nauseous. For example: your 4-year-old is sitting in the back seat looking at a book or coloring; his inner ear is sensing the motion of the car, but his eyes and the nerves in his extremities are not.
This doesn’t happen to everyone, and the typical age range is from 2-12. (Although, even as an adult, I find myself at times becoming sick in the car!)
The most common complaints are nausea, irritability, restlessness, yawning, and the child becoming pale. Kids who suffer from motion sickness are usually very uninterested in food. And, much to our dismay, vomiting will soon set in unless we intervene. ; (
How to Avoid or Alleviate Motion Sickness
1. Do not travel on a full stomach.
Avoid grease and spicy foods prior to travel. Rather than a large meal, offer a snack such as crackers or pretzels and something to drink. Yes, I know we all want to avoid stopping to go to the bathroom, but dehydration can exacerbate motion sickness. Keep these same snacks in the car to use throughout the trip.
2. Frequent stops!
I know you just want to get there, but isn’t it better to get there without someone getting sick in the car? At each stop, allow your child to get out and walk around.
3. Encourage them to look out the window.
This means no reading, coloring, video games or tv screens! Try instead to talk, sing songs, or play a car game. One game we frequently play is to count the number of cars that are a certain color on the road. This keeps the kids looking out so that their eyes and ears are both sensing the motion. For older kids, see how many different license plates you can find on your journey.
4. Keep the car at a reasonable temperature.
As many people know, being too hot or too cold can make some people sick. Remember for all of those with SUVs and vans that the temperature in the back may not be the same as up front — especially if someone has turned off the vents in the back!
5. Avoid sun glare.
Consider using shades that can attach to the window to keep the sun out of their eyes.
6. It isn’t always possible, especially in the summer, but open the window for some fresh air. (It really does a world of good.)
7. Ginger and peppermint.
They’ve both been well documented to help with nausea, so you may want to consider a small amount of ginger ale orpeppermint tea.
Yes there are some medications, both prescription and over the counter, that can be used. But remember that these medicines can also cause side effects such as drowsiness (which may cause a tired, miserable kid when you get to your destination), dry mouth, dry eyes, and sometimes even vision changes. Please always check with your doctor before using any of these medicines. And if you choose to use Benadryl or Dramaminethen, be sure to carefully follow the instructions for giving a proper dose.
9. If none of the above things are working, then find a safe place to stop and get out of the car. Have your child lie down on his back with his eyes closed. Many times cool compresses on will also help.
The good news — is most kids do outgrow this as they get older! And, as always, give us a call if you need any help or advice.
Dr. Alicia Hartung, a shareholder in the practice, has been a Kids Plus Doc since 2001.