Motion sickness? How to help kids who get car sick (includes general tips for motion sickness, including airplane sickness)

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Help for little ones whose tummies don't like car rides and airplanes.  Here are the tips and rules of of tackling and managing motion sickness.

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Some things to try:

 

Medications and devices:

  • Dramamine (depending on age; check with your doctor)
    • Some parents warn about drowsiness and only to give 1/2 tablet
    • There's a kids' chewable version or Dramamine (it has been found that many children hate the taste and prefer the child dose of the adult version)
    • Take an hour before you hit the road
    • One parent crushes and mixes it into their child's milk (other possible options are pudding, yogurt, PB&J sandwiches, marshmellows, etc.)
  • Bonine (less drowsy version of Dramamine)
  • Gravol (similar to Dramamine, but made with ginger and can be easier on the stomach)
  • Antihistamines (e.g., Benadryl)
  • There are homeopathic motion sickness pills as well.
  • Sea bands (the accupressure wrist bands that control nausea-- great for morning sickness too)

 

Car environment:

  • Keep child and the car cool.
    • Open/crack the window and keep air circulating
    • Have child chew on ice chips so he/she does not overheat
    • Take off outer coat layers to avoid overheating
    • Try air conditioning "apparently my son copes better in a cool environment."     
  • Fresh air helps. Roll down the windows—perhaps the cool air simulates fresh air.
  • Open the windows in the car for fresh air, and also the sound helps them sleep.
  • Shade the side windows.
  • "Drive when it's dark- EVEN IF kid doesn't sleep in the car, night  driving is less nauseating because of less visual stimulus"
  • Tell child to ONLY look out the front, not the side windows. Better yet, if they are old enough, let them sit up front.
  • If you can drive when your kid can sleep try to do that.
  • "I had some pretty bad motion sickness as a child, and still occasionally get it to this day. It's generally caused/exacerbated by the disconnect between how fast it feels like you're going and how fast if looks like you're going. The worst thing to do is look out the side windows. Looking out the rear or front windows is better. Reading a book or looking closely at a toy and then looking up (and out the window) really makes it bad."
  • Try using an ice pack to the back of the head.
  • Try an cool cloth or wipes to the face. 
  • Facing kids forward rather than backwards can be a game changer on the car sickness. 
  • Make sure the car seat is firmly in place. 

 

For the driver:

  • Be prepared with ziploc bags, paper towels and wipes. Barf, zip, smell gone!
  • Put down garbage bags and towels (and have extras of everything) to help wrap up any mess.
  • The OXO Bib is said to be good at "catching" what you don't want on the carseat and floor. 
  • Try to make ride as smooth as possible.
  • Don't drive too fast, especially through windy roads.
  • Don't abuse the break! When drivers make jerky stops, it can trigger motion sickness.
  • Avoid heavy traffic.

 

Keep kids distracted:

  • Play audiobooks "Books on tape—fun for the whole family!"
  • DVDs "although reading makes him sick, he can watch TV in the car." (Other people say avoid screens of all kinds)
  • Music
  • Old fashion road trip games—I Spy, find all 50 license plates… looking outside the window can placate the belly
  • iPads/DVDs can make it worse for some kids. 
  • Try to plan the drive during sleep/nap time.

 

Take breaks:

  • Make frequent stops, especially when child is complaining about tongue, stomach, throat, etc.
  • Take breaks, but don't unnecessarily extend the trip. If you notice they always get sick around 2 hours in, stop and take a break a little before you hit the 2 hour mark.


When nausea strikes:

  • Come up with a code word (or sign if they are non-verbal) to let you know they are feeling queasy
  • Have child close her eyes when feeling nauseated


 Food/Drink:

  • Give snacks (simple carbs like pretzels, Priate Booty) can help.
  • Eat something plain 30-60 minutes before the drive. The child shouldn't be overly full ot overly hungry.
  • Offer easy to digest and savoury foods like pretzels and saltines.
  • Ginger snaps or candied ginger.
  • Peppermints, Altoids, Lifesaver mints.
  • Try peppermint iced tea.
  • Hard candies and lollipops (if age appropriate)
  • Only feed things you’re “willing to clean up” - so no KoolAid, Red Vines, etc.
  • Small amount of ginger ale before the drive.
  • Lollipops or chewing gum, especially mint, and ginger snaps 
  • Food—Saltine crackers, gummy bears (like jell-o, gummies sooth the tummy)     
  • Cold water—again, there's something about being cool. Ice to suck on can help.
    • Foods to avoid:
      • No dairy prior to ride.
      • Overly sweet or greasy foods
      • "A big trigger for my daughter was fruit before a car ride--maybe it was too acidic?  We also found that any activity that had her looking down for too long like coloring or using an iPad triggered her to get sick. We sometimes attach the iPad to the headrest in front of her to watch a movie and that works ok--our pediatrician actually said that looking at something attached to the car might be helpful. But the safest bet is to just drive at night when she's likely to sleep. She's 4 now, and it has gotten a lot less frequent!"

 Avoid:

  • No reading, no looking down -- distract with other games like music, conversation, etc.
  • No videos/DVD's (although for some this works)
  • Try to travel when child is sleepy, or at night, to reduce risk of feeling sick 
  • Put child in the middle seat, so they can see out the front window where things are not whizzing by as fast.
  • If your child is in a carset, keep it in the middle as well.
  • Encourage “whining” so you have as much notice as possible
  • When all of these things fail, BE PREPARED,
    • Bring plastic bags, paper towels, water, and change of clothes in case the worst does happen.
    • Diapers make good catchers’ mitts if all else fails
    • Drape a towel underneath your child and on the floor so the mess is minimal
  • Avoid the car (if you can)! "My son prefers train travel as you can get up and walk around."

 

Be prepared for cleaning up a mess:

  • "We also drape her in towels for the ride. And watch what she eats , tons of blueberries vomited all over a car interior is pretty gross!"
  • Have plastic barf bags or Medical Grade Emesis bags handy.
  • Bumpkins Supersized Bibs for when you start to notice signs of nausea. 
  • The OXO Bib is said to be good at "catching" what you don't want on the carseat and floor.
  • Keep wet wipes, paper towels, and upholstery cleaner in the car to clean up immediately after.
  • Febreze!
  • Have an extra set of clothes available.
  • Have someone sit in the backseat with the child who can watch for signs of car sickness and be ready with a vomit bad (Cleanis Care Bag).

 

Something to try, before you travel:

  • One parent says motion sickness could be a vestibular system issue and “getting him to spin clockwise 10 times and then anti-clockwise 10 times every day would help him and then to increase it by a couple of spins every week or so,” could help.
  • Check out this article that parents have described as super helpful.