Does Your Child Suffer From Motion Sickness?

Are your travel plans often wrecked by your child’s motion sickness? Don't worry. Here are some useful tips to help your child avoid getting sick on a long road trip.

By Dr Hemapriya Natesan  • 8 min read

Does Your Child Suffer From Motion Sickness?

Last year, during the school holidays, we decided to have an impromptu road trip to Mysuru. We were super excited and had lots of plans – to visit the palace, make friends with the animals at the zoo and, of course, shop for saris! We filled the tank, packed all essentials and set up our road trip playlist. But we hadn’t considered one thing – the multiple change of clothes my son would need due to motion sickness!

Yes, our fun and the trip were marred by the frequent stops we had to make, due to my son’s urge to vomit. The trip back was just as bad. The to and fro journey was harrowing enough to make us hesitant of taking up another road trip

What should have been a memorable journey for my son, became something that created a dread of road trips in him. That was when I realised that I should have been better prepared to handle my son's motion sickness.

What is motion sickness?

To understand motion sickness, we need to know how it occurs. We all have a vestibular system in our body, which provides us with our balance and orientation. When we are travelling, the system may experience a clash between what it perceives and what actually happens. This manifests through various symptoms of motion sickness, like feeling dizzy, nauseous or tired.

Not everyone experiences this when they are on the move. It is estimated that roughly one-third of the human population suffers from generic motion sickness, but it varies greatly based on several factors. For instance, a short car journey may be fine for an individual, but a long, winding one can trigger sickness in her.

Motion sickness also depends upon factors such as what the person ate prior to travelling and whether the person is in a vehicle with open windows. Reading or looking at the phone while moving in a car also causes the imbalance mentioned earlier. Sitting facing a direction opposite to the one you are moving in can also cause motion sickness.

And it’s not just road trips that can make you suffer! Travelling by plane too can cause motion sickness in many people who don’t have trouble when travelling by road or rail. Then there is the legendary seasickness, which can mess up the most luxurious cruise. Besides these, ‘perceived motion’ such as watching 3D movies and using virtual reality headsets can also cause sickness.

Motion sickness in children

Motion sickness is largely inherited – so if you had it as a child, you know whom to blame. Children sometimes don’t say when they’re experiencing the symptoms till it is too late, so it helps to watch out for some warning signs. Fatigue or tiredness is usually the first symptom, especially in younger children. This may or may not proceed to nausea and vomiting, which is usually the symptom seen in older children.

In most cases, motion sickness resolves itself as the child grows older, so it’s not something that you need to be worried about. However, we do want our children to enjoy their road trips. So let’s see how to deal with this problem. 

One of the biggest contributing factors for motion sickness in children is the food they eat. So it makes sense to consider what foods they can eat and what they can avoid. 

Safe foods for motion sickness:

  • Dry crackers
  • Plain white bread
  • Salads with light or no dressing
  • Ginger candy
  • Nuts
  • Clear soup
  • Steamed foods like idli
  • Popcorn
  • Fresh lemon juice

Eat something light on the trip rather than travel on an empty stomach. However, do take care to avoid the following foods.

Foods to avoid for motion sickness:

  • Sugary drinks like packaged juices or colas
  • Fast food like burgers, fries or pizzas
  • Caffeinated drinks
  • Deep-fried foods, like samosa, vada or puri
  • Any kind of oily or greasy dish
  • Carbohydrate-heavy meals

Other tips to deal with motion sickness in children

What you can do -

  1. When booking train or flight tickets, opt for window seats.
  2. Open the windows and let the fresh air in.
  3. Direct air vents inside the vehicle towards children's face.
  4. Carry lemons and ginger candy.
  5. Keep extra clothes, wet tissues and plastic bags handy. 
  6. Keep essential oils such as mint, lavender or citrus in the vehicle. 
  7. Teach children about motion sickness symptoms so they can tell you early. 

What your child should do -

  1. Look outside at distant objects.
  2. Look out through the front window.
  3. Close the eyes or take a nap.
  4. Avoid reading or looking at the phone.
  5. Take small sips of water.
  6. Breathe deeply to relieve nausea.

Once you know that your child is likely to have motion sickness, it’s a good idea to go to your pediatrician well in advance and ask for a prescription. Most medications need to be taken an hour before travelling and every six hours for long trips. In case your child can’t stop vomiting or appears unconscious, get to a doctor right away. 

Now that I know what to do, it’s time to plan our next road trip to a gorgeous location!

The author is an experienced medical practitioner and mom to two adorable kids. She is also the founder of the successful parenting blog My Little Moppet and the owner of the health food store, Little Moppet Foods.

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