Everyone has a threshold for motion sickness. It may be a hurricane at sea, riding camels for several hours, space travel, or “amusement” park rides that spin you in three dimensions simultaneously, often while you are strapped in upside down. Camels cause it because they sway side to side while they walk. Astronauts experience it even though they are screened, trained and medicated to deal with it. Children also have thresholds for motion sickness. Here is what you should know.
1. Consider motion sickness when infants are unusually fussy in moving cars. Most infants fall asleep in moving cars. A cause of the fussiness may that infants face backwards for safety reasons, a position known to increase motion sickness in adults. For infants with a history of fussiness in moving cars, wait until they are asleep before starting the car.
2. Children two to 12 years of age seem especially susceptible. A rough way to test kids is to have them read or draw in the back seat of a moving car. If they can do so without showing symptoms, chances are they can handle reasonable motion – airplane turbulence and merry-go-rounds, for example. Serve motion sickness-prone children small, light snacks before and during trips and offer them frequent sips of water, juice or soda.
3. Recognize early symptoms. Children with impending motion sickness lose interest in their activity – wanting to get off the merry-go-round, lying down on a ship, or curling up in their seat on a plane, for example. Next comes “queasiness” – dizziness, paleness, stomachache, sweating, headache, yawning, and rapid breathing. Take immediate action to avoid the ultimate disaster, vomiting.
4. Preventing vomiting. Distract kids with singing and word games. When possible, expose them to fresh air, well-ventilated areas, or air conditioning. Have older children breathe slowly and deeply. Indoors, tell them to close their eyes and keep their heads still. Avoid sights and odors of food. Separate them from people who are already sick, especially from people who are already vomiting.
5. Air travel. The larger the plane, the smoother the ride. Avoid propeller planes, if possible. Opt for window seats. Looking out at the horizon helps minimize symptoms. Listen to music or watch TV. Sitting over the wings or over the middle of the plane, though often suggested, does not seem to be helpful. If symptoms appear, recline seats and aim the air vent at the child’s face.
6. Sea travel. 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. Find cruises where ships pull up at docks rather than use small boats to bring you ashore. Cabins at the center of ships are not helpful.
7. Carsickness. If possible, raise car seats so that young children can see out the windows. Tell older children to focus on distant scenery. Stop frequently and expose them to fresh air. Also stop if children show early symptoms. Keep the car cool and well 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. Expert 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.)
9. Medications. Over-the counter antihistamines – dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) and diphenhydramine (Benadryl), for example – help reduce incidence and severity. Read labels regarding lower age limits, dosage, and time and frequency of administration. Side effects range from sleepiness to agitation. Use these medications infrequently; they are no longer recommended for general use in young children for colds and allergies due to side effects. Injectable medications are available on 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 although there is little evidence that they are effective. Ginger may reduce vomiting. A diet high in carbohydrates allegedly helps. Acupuncture and acupressure applied just above the wrist is sometimes recommended.