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Preventing Motion Sickness on Car Trips


Children yawning in backseat of car
Cultura/Emma Kim/Riser/Getty Images

For many families, a getaway means loading up the car and heading out on the highway... yay, a road trip! But what if your child gets motion sickness? Those words from the back seat -- "I feel sick!" -- drain the fun from the moment very fast. Fortunately, a number of simple tricks can help prevent that carsick feeling.

What is Motion Sickness, Anyway?
Basically, motion sickness results from a conflict between the eye and ear: the inner ears detect that the car is moving, but the eyes-- focused within the car-- do not. The brain receives conflicting signals, and nausea results.

Usually the child will first complain about feeling queasy, which allows some time to fix the situation before actual vomiting starts.

As always, prevention is best.

Tips to Prevent Motion Sickness in the Car

1. Look at a Far Horizon

  • encourage your child to focus on a distant point outside the car
  • play car games like "I Spy" that get the child to look outside
  • bring along books on CD's so your child can listen while looking out the window
  • limit activities such as reading or playing hand-held video games where the eyes stay focused within the car
  • for toddlers in car-seats, position the seat so that the child can see outside

2. Avoid Rear Seats

  • many families have mini-vans, and kids seem to feel the van's motion more in the rear seat
  • facing backwards is to be avoided too. (Some station-wagon type models of vehicles have back-facing seats in the rear.)

3. Fresh Air

  • a child on the verge of nausea may feel better if the window's open
  • no one should be smoking in a vehicle with kids inside!
  • also avoid strong-smelling foods or snacks

4. Settle the Stomach

  • a child fighting queasiness may feel better if he/she munches on a dry cracker
  • An empty stomach is not best for avoiding motion sickness
  • avoid greasy and hard-to-digest food

5. Smoother Driving

  • the less braking and swaying the better
  • a vehicle's suspension system that's in poor shape can make things worse

6. Make Frequent Stops

  • plan enough time on your trip to stop and let your child(ren) get out of the car

7. Be Alert for Early Signs

  • Make sure to listen, if your child says he's feeling sick or dizzy. Also, pay attention if your child loses his/her appetite or appears pale or sweaty.

8. Motion Sickness Drugs

  • over-the-counter drugs are available for motion sickness, as are some alternative-medicine types of remedies. Remember that alternative medicines can be as potent as drugs. It's best to be cautious and always seek a medical opinion before medicating a child.

  • to be effective against motion sickness, most drugs need to be taken beforethe trip starts.

  • For more on medications and alternative remedies for motion sickness, see links below.

Also: several types of wristbands are sold for relief of motion sickness. Some simply put pressure on an acupressure point and are inexpensive, while others provide nerve stimulation with a battery. Check customer reviews for any wristband you're considering!

Frequent Stops are Key

Stop at free playrooms at fast-food restaurants, or stop for picnics, or stop at rest areas and toss around a frisbee or ball... and the more stops you make, the less you'll have to deal with fidgety kids and "are we there yet?"

Fortunately, infants seldom get motion sickness. Toddlers and preschool ages are most susceptible.

Remember: it's in everyone's interests to stop the car before the child actually gets sick!

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