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Treating Motion Sickness

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

Are you travelling this Thanksgiving week?  So many families do and it takes a lot of planning and preparation to travel with your kids.  What’s interesting this time of year is the amount of calls I receive from patients of mine who are heading out and are worried about a child who gets motion sick. Whenever I get calls like this it brings back memories of my own children and episodes of throwing up in many different locales, YUCK!  As a pediatrician and mom, I hope this will help you be better prepared than I was when this first happened to our family while riding in the infamous minivan.

The most common cause of motion sickness is car sickness, but children may get sick while on airplanes or boats too. It seems that about 58% of children between the ages of four and 10 experience the symptoms of car sickness.

Younger children are also affected, but may not be able to verbalize the sensations of motion sickness. It seems to be due to an increased sensitivity to the brain’s response to motions. The brain receives signals from the motion-sensing parts of the body (the eyes, the inner ear, and the nerves in the extremities), and in most situations all three areas respond to any motion. When the signals the brain sends and receives are in conflict, (typically between the ear which senses movement, while the eye does not), the symptoms of motion sickness occur.

The signs of motion sickness usually start with a slight feeling of queasiness: “I have a stomachache” is heard from the backseat of the car. Dreaded words to any parent. In some cases children can be sick before you have even gotten out of town and on the highway.

The initial nausea is then followed by a cold sweat, fatigue and loss of appetite. A younger non- verbal child may just become restless, pale, sweaty and cries. At some point these symptoms are usually followed by vomiting. By then you have figured it out!

The best treatment for motion sickness is like many things: prevention! If you have already experienced motion sickness with your child plan ahead for trips. If your child is over the age of two, place them in their carseat in the middle of the backseat and face them forward.

Provide a small nutritious snack prior to the trip rather than a big meal, and avoid dairy (there is nothing worse I can assure you from personal experience).

Open the windows to provide fresh air. Do not let your child play video games or read while the car is in motion, Try to distract them by singing or talking. Sleeping may also be helpful, so at times you may plan your trip around naps and bedtime.

Frequent stops for a child who is feeling sick are a necessity. Letting them lay flat for a few minutes while the car is stopped and even applying a cool rag may make them feel better. Try small sips of carbonated beverages or crackers to help the nausea.

Some children who have a tendency to get sick may do well if they are pre-medicated for a trip with either Dramamine or Benadryl. Although these medications typically cause drowsiness, some children may have the opposite reaction and become agitated. You might want to try them prior to a trip. Check with your doctor about dosages.

Lastly, be prepared and have zip lock bags and hand wipes available in case of emergency. This will make everyone in the car a little happier.  Have a safe trip!

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

Send your question or comment to Dr. Sue!

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