How to prevent motion sickness in children? What to do?

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Dr. Sandro Cantoni. Updated May 15.05.2021

During the car trip for the vacations, or for a simple day trip, it often happens that the child is not well. Basically, he suffers from car sickness, the so-called “motion sickness”, in medical terms. 

But what is it? And most importantly, how is it prevented and how is it treated?

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What is motion sickness?

Motion sickness is a feeling of discomfort, with symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, that often appears when the body is in motion, such as in a car, or a boat. Basically it is a form of physiological vertigo, that is, there is no disease that causes it.

There is tremendous variability from one child to another.Some children vomit after a few minutes in the car, others are fine for trips that last many hours. 

Why does the child get car sick?

The reason is thought to be that the brain receives conflicting signals. In practice, what it sees with its eyes is different from what is transmitted by the center of movement and balance, which is located in an inner part of the ear.

In fact, when the child is sitting in the car, for example in the car seat looking at a toy, the eyes send the signal that this object is stationary.

Instead, the center of movement sends the signal that the body is moving. And this difference in signals causes the child’s discomfort.

At what age does car sickness appear?

Car sickness most frequently appears from the age of two. But very often, even infants or very young children suffer from it, and they vomit on every trip. 

How do you notice that the child is unwell in the car? What are the symptoms?

It is not difficult. 

Suddenly the child says he or she doesn’t feel well. Something feels wrong with the stomach. In fact, the main symptom of car sickness is nausea. The child begins to sweat, or salivate, feels fatigued, has a headache and then begins to vomit. He often appears pale.

If the child is very young, he does not report that he has discomfort, but he shows sickness, begins to cry, to be whiny and irritable, and then vomits.

Does the motion sickness go away on its own? And at what age?

Normally, car sickness passes on its own. Over time, the child gets used to traveling and even unconsciously adopts behaviors to reduce his discomfort.  Then, around the age of 10, car sickness decreases or disappears completely.

What can I do to prevent my child from getting car sick?

These steps reduce the chance of your child being car sick: 

Feeding

Try to make sure your child is not fasting at the time of the trip, but also that his stomach is not too full from having just eaten.Some children vomit after a few minutes in the car, others are fine for trips that last many hours. 

On the way, you can feed him small pieces of dry food, or small pieces of fruit, and limited amounts of water, of course if it is not very hot.

Itinerary

Try to take a trip where there are not too many turns, which of course increase the chances of your child getting carsick.

Traffic

If possible, try to leave at a time when there is not too much traffic, so as to avoid slowing down and accelerating.

Sleep

While your baby is sleeping, it is difficult for him to get car sick because his eyes are closed. That’s when you might start toward a time when your child normally falls asleep, such as early in the morning, or in the evening. Then encourage your child to rest, close his eyes, and take a short nap. 

Be careful, though. Never leave your child alone in the car, even if he has fallen asleep and you don’t want to wake him up. For example, even if it’s just five minutes to go and get a coffee at a motorway service station.

The temperature inside the car, even with the windows down a little, rises very quickly and the child can suffer heat stroke.

Stops

Make frequent stops during the trip, to get the child out in the fresh air, the ideal is about every hour if the child is awake. 

Looking away

Encourage your child to look away at the horizon or a distant object in front of the car, not in the side windows.

Don’t watch videos or read books. 

Best not to play games or watch a video or anything else on your tablet or cell phone, and don’t read books. This often causes motion sickness. 

What remedies can help prevent motion sickness?

There are natural remedies, as well as medications.Often the latter cannot be given to young children, but be careful to use them for older children because of possible side effects.  If the child almost always has car sickness, then they are justified. Instead, if he has car sickness every now and then, it is better to use the precautions mentioned above, or natural remedies, and avoid drugs. 

Natural remedies.

Some natural remedies have shown some effectiveness in clinical research, such as ginger products and bracelets that put pressure on a certain point. 

Ginger for car sickness

Ginger products have some preventive effect when given an hour or two before a trip. Some research seems to indicate a mechanism of action on stomach movements. 

There are also products for children, such as drops. t should be taken one hour before the trip. 

Bracelets or anti-nausea bands

They exploit the principle of acupressure on a point of the wrist, called point P6 in the inner face of the wrist. In several researches they have proven to be an effective method. They should be placed on both wrists. They seem to work even when the child is having motion sickness symptoms.

Medications to prevent car sickness

Medications to prevent car sickness are effective, but often have side effects such as drowsiness or others. The two best-researched and most widely used types of medications are antihistamines and transdermal scopolamine, which is contraindicated in children under 12 years old. 

Transdermal scopolamine, which is applied as a patch, is used in older children who have to take long trips, such as on a boat for many hours or days. The ones most commonly used in practice on car trips are antihistamines.

What can I do when my child starts to feel sick in the car?

The remedies are the same as I described above for prevention. Stop, get out of the car and get some fresh air, give a cool drink to drink. If the child does not improve he/she can take a capsule or gum of the antihistamine.