Children and Motion Sickness

Why does my child get carsick?

It has more to do with the way his body works than with the motion itself. Your child won't get motion sickness from running, for example, however wildly he twists and turns or dashes up and down hills. But the same motion in a car, boat, plane, roller coaster or any other vehicle may make his stomach churn. The reason is that our brains are programmed to anticipate motion based on what we see. Strapped snugly into the back seat of a car, your child may see only the back of the seat in front of him, which, relative to his own body, doesn't seem to be moving. Meanwhile, his body feels the twists of the road. The confusion between what he sees and what he feels makes him feel nauseated. Children are usually most susceptible to motion sickness between the ages of 6 and 8. After that, tummies get calmer with each decade.

How can I prevent motion sickness?

  • Avoid the sort of travel that has caused problems before. If your child gets ill on long car rides, for example, you might consider splurging for an airline ticket rather than making that cross-country trip.
  • Try to position your child in cars so he can see the road over or between the seats in front of him.
  • Avoid a ship's bow and stern: The motion is most turbulent there. As much as possible, keep your child on deck where he can see the horizon.
  • Sit over the airplane's wing -- the ride tends to be less bumpy there -- and have your youngster recline as much as possible.
  • Don't let your child read in a moving vehicle.
  • Don't feed him a heavy meal or fatty foods before the trip; experts say both can cause indigestion and aggravate motion sickness.
  • Open windows whenever possible. Avoid bringing along items with strong smells, such as greasy food, which can contribute to nausea.

Do motion sickness drugs work?

Several drugs can prevent motion sickness, but none works every time. Unfortunately, there's no way to know in advance which one will help your child, so if one fails, you may want to try another. Dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) is the old standby. More recently, drug makers have added cyclizine (Marezine), diphenhydramine (Benadryl), meclizine (Bonine), and the prescription drug promethazine (Phenergan) -- but the Centers for Disease Control does not recommend meclizine, cyclizine, or promethazine for children.

Be sure to consider your child's age when picking a drug: Don't use dimenhydrinate and diphenhydramine for children under 2. Meclizine should not be used for kids under 12, and the motion sickness drug scopolamine (Transderm Scop) should not be used for children at all.

All of those drugs are antihistamines, a class of medicines sometimes used to staunch the flow of runny noses. They all come with some side effects as well, which can include dry mouth and blurred vision. The most common complaint is drowsiness, so don't combine them with any other sedative. They work best when taken at least a half-hour before the motion begins, and some are available in special preparations, such as syrups.

Before you go traveling, it's a good idea to give your child a test of any medication you plan to use on your trip; that way you can make sure there are no unpleasant side effects. If your child has glaucoma or a breathing problem such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis, talk with his doctor before giving him any of the above drugs.

Do any alternative medicines work?

There are anecdotal reports that some do. For centuries, sailors have chewed ginger to soothe their seasickness, but the few scientific studies on ginger's anti-nausea properties have shown mixed success. Although there have been no published experiments involving children, experts say that ginger tea is safe for children (although not for infants). If you want to try it, dissolve 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon of powdered ginger in a cup of hot water, or boil two slices of fresh ginger root (each about 1/8 of an inch thick) to one cup of water for about 10 minutes. Sweeten to taste, and offer small sips throughout the day.

You could also try giving your child a sip or two of peppermint or chamomile tea, which has long been used to relieve stomach upset. And some people have found a traditional remedy -- giving crackers to settle the stomach -- effective as well.

Although studies haven't proven its effectiveness, Emetrol, a blend of phosphoric acid and a sugar solution, has been used by some parents as an alternative to prescription anti-nausea drugs. The dose for children 2 to 12 years of age is one to two teaspoons and may be repeated every 15 minutes. But talk to your doctor first, as special care may be necessary.

And what about those specially designed wristbands that are supposed to prevent nausea by activating an acupuncture pressure point? So far, studies have failed to show that they work any better than placebos. On the other hand, placebos have proved useful in reducing motion sickness, so the wristband might help your child anyway -- especially if you show confidence in it.

References

American Academy of Pediatrics, Motion Sickness, from Caring for Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5

Nemours Foundation, "What's Motion Sickness?"

Centers for Disease Control. Travelers Health: Yellow Book. Health Information for International Travel: Motion Sickness. http://www.ncid.cdc.gov/travel/yb/utils/ybGet.asp?section=NIR&obj=motion-sickness.htm

Merck Manual. Motion Sickness Drugs. http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec02/ch018/ch018h.html

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