One of a parent’s most dreaded phrases to hear mid-way through a long car trip? “Mum, I don’t feel so good”. Worse yet: “I’m going to be sick”. The worst: regurgitation of lunch without warning. Beats “Are we there yet?” any day.
Motion sickness, whether by car, plane or boat, can put a serious damper on any family holiday the afflicted child and the rest of the family alike. But don’t let motion sickness put you off taking the family on holiday, as there are many preventative measures, plus medicinal and holistic treatments, worth trying on your next trip for your queasy child.
What exactly causes motion sickness?
Basically, motion sickness is caused when conflicting sensory signals are sent to the brain. The inner ears detect motion, but the eyes cannot see the motion. If your child is seated too low to see out the window, or if their eyes are focused on a book, their field of vision will remain constant while the rest of the body knows that there is motion present. This confusion in the brain triggers nausea, and can also lead to dizziness, paleness, headache, sweating and – the last thing you want in your vehicle – vomiting.
Toddlers and preschoolers seem most susceptible, though everyone – even adults – can experience motion sickness. Though rare, babies can suffer as well, and since they won’t be able to tell you about it, take note if your baby is unusually fussy on long trips.
The best way to cure motion sickness is to prevent it from happening in the first place.
If a child remembers a nasty bout of motion sickness from a previous trip, they may be conditioned to respond with a queasy feeling every time they get into a car or plane. In this and all cases of motion sickness, distraction is key. Bring along some new toys, play CDs of their favourite music or audio books, or invent “thinking” games such as 20 Questions or the Storyteller game (each person invents a small piece of a story – the sillier the better – before passing on to the next person to continue the tale).
I Spy and Spotto can also be great games as they encourage your child to look outside the car, but some very sensitive children may even get a bit nauseous if their point of focus changes too frequently. For these children, encourage them to focus on a single point on the horizon and keep their head as still as possible.
Never let a child susceptible to motion sickness read in the car or play hand-held games, as these are classic nausea triggers. If your child is still at the napping age, try to plan your trip so that most of the time is spent sleeping and blissfully unaware of the otherwise belly-churning motion.
Since many children don’t feel the symptoms of motion sickness early in a trip, make frequent rest stops so your child can get some fresh air and burn off some pent-up energy. This has the added bonus of keeping children from getting bored and whiney!
A steady dose of fresh air can help ease motion sickness, so keep a window cracked and avoid smoking or any other pungent smells in the car (such as perfumes or strong-smelling foods). Adjust the air conditioning to keep any road fumes entering the car.
Some parents find that they’re children are less likely to be sick on emptier stomachs, though many find that their children travel better on a tummy lined with frequent light snacks. Avoid greasy fast food, as fattening snacks and meals will make a queasy belly even more upset. Stick to crackers, vegies and other healthy, easy-to-digest foods. Clear fizzy drinks like ginger ale work for some children, while mint-flavoured chewing gum can work for others (ginger and peppermint are widely believed to ease nausea). However, every child is different so use what works best for your child. Some children continue to feel nauseated even after the travel stops, so if your child claims to not be hungry at a meal stop, don’t force the issue.
If your child is old enough to sit in the front seat, let them, as this makes it easier for them to look outside and predict any stops and turns. The front of the car is also less likely to feel bumps and curves as the back. If your child is too young for the front, booster seats can prop them up high enough to see out the window. When they see the motion that their bodies feel, motion sickness is likely to disappear.
And there’s certainly something to be said for cautious, steady driving! Avoid any quick stops, sharp turns or bumpy roads when possible. A suspension system in need of repair can’t help matters, either.
There are some medicines available over the counter to ease the symptoms of motion sickness, though not all are suitable for children so read labels carefully and if in doubt, ask your paediatrician. Preventative medications are to be taken before any trip – not after symptoms have already presented themselves. Some medications can make your child drowsy or cause other side effects, and if your child is already on other medications, beware of drug interactions.
Capsules of powdered ginger (available from some chemists and health food shops) have been known to ease tummy upsets for many (a HWK staffer swears by them!). This is an all-natural therapy that won’t cause drowsiness, though it doesn’t work for everyone.
There are also acupressure wristbands that target nausea-related pressure points, and antinausea patches, though these are to be used with caution as well. Most patches are intended solely for adult use, and though the wristbands have been known to work for some, the body can get used to the pressure and stop working at a most inappropriate time.
Always contact your family physician first if considering using any medications or therapies!
And just in case all your good intentions fly out the window (or more accurately, fly out of your child’s stomach), be prepared. Pack a supply of sturdy bags (grab a supply each time you fly or use plastic bags – check for holes first!) kept within reach of your child, wet wipes and a fresh change of clothes.
Above all, listen to your child. No one knows your child better than you do, so if you notice any unusual symptoms or hear any complaints of malaise, act quickly before it’s too late. After all, nothing should stop you from having the family holiday of a lifetime!