If you’ve never been seasick it’s only because you haven’t encountered the right storm, say veteran sailors. Worse than being seasick yourself is dealing with children who are, say parents.
1. Call it motion sickness, not seasickness.
The ancient Geeks named it. The word “nausea” is the Greek word for “sea.” But motion sickness also occurs in cars, airplanes, amusement park rides – and when riding camels and elephants. These animals sway from side to side as they walk. Motion sickness is a major headache in space travel. Even though astronauts are carefully screened, more than half experience it.
2. A rough test for motion sickness is reading or drawing in a moving car.
If children can do this without showing symptoms, chances are they will not become ill at sea, in planes, or in amusement parks.
3. Recognize early signs:
Feeling “queasy”: dizziness, paleness, stomach ache, sweating, headaches, yawning, and rapid breathing. If infants cry, it may be a symptom. This is the time to take remedial action – before vomiting occurs.
4. Remedial actions to take.
Distract young children with singing and word puzzles. When possible, expose them to fresh air. Have older children breathe slowly and deeply. Tell them to focus on the horizon. On airplanes, have them look out the window, recline their seat, and direct the air vent at them. On trains, face forward and sit near a window. Avoid sights and odors of food.
5. Choose the right sea voyage.
Small fishing boats and yachts in open waters are problematic. For cruise vacations, choose large ships with stabilizers, smooth seas (inland waterways, for example), and calm seasons. Rough seas are common in the North Sea, to and from Antarctica, and the North Atlantic in fall and winter. Having a cabin in the center of the ship is not particularly helpful.
6. Minimizing early signs at sea.
Keep children in cool, air-conditioned or well-ventilated areas. When no window is available, tell them to close their eyes and keep their heads still. Sip small amounts of fruit juice. Avoid people who are already sick, especially if those people are vomiting.
Serve small, light snacks before and during the trip. Offer frequent small drinks of cold water, juice or soda. Don’t let children prone to motion sickness read, draw, or color. If possible, raise car seats so that they can easily see out the windows. Tell older children to focus on distant scenery.
Stop frequently and expose them to fresh air. Stop the car if children show early symptoms. Keep the car cool and ventilated. Avoid strong odors. Fill up with gas when children are not present. If possible, avoid winding roads and frequent traffic stops. Drive during children’s usual sleeping hours. Opinion is divided whether watching DVDs increases, decreases, or has no effect on carsickness.
8. Amusement park rides.
Merry-go-round-type rides are more troublesome than roller coasters that go up and down. Outdoor rides are better than indoor ones. Rides simulating space travel are prone to cause illness; many supply motion sickness bags. Sit facing forward. Ask ride operators if many children become ill. (Generally, they prefer losing a fare than having to clean up the mess.)
Antihistamines – especially dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) and diphenhydramine (Benadryl), for example – help reduce the incidence and severity of symptoms. Medication takes about 30 minutes to take effect. Check with your health care provider regarding lower age limits, dosage, frequency of administration, and side effects. Some young children may become agitated from the medication. Injections of medications are available on most cruise ships. Transderm Scop, the most frequently used medication for adults, is not approved for children because of possible side effects.
10. Other remedies.
Many are available – with little evidence that they are effective. Ginger may reduce vomiting. A diet high in carbohydrate allegedly helps. Acupuncture and acupressure applied just above the wrist is sometimes recommended. “Roast beef and cabbage stays down while the daintiest dishes the pantry prepares are promptly rejected,” says an old British medical text.