Medical Center Offers Tips to Avoid Motion Sickness During Summer Vacations

LIVINGSTON—As summer begins, many families eagerly anticipate far away vacations, day trips to an amusement park or car rides down to the shore. Unfortunately, few things can ruin their trip faster than motion sickness in a child.

“While motion sickness can be bothersome, it is not a serious illness,” explains Timothy S. Yeh, M.D., Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Saint Barnabas Medical Center. “There are measures families can take to prevent and relieve motion sickness in younger children.”

Motion sickness often occurs because the brain is programmed to anticipate motion based on what is sees. Tightly strapped into the back seat of a car, your child may see only the back of the seat in front of him, which, relative to his own body, doesn’t seem to be moving. Meanwhile, his body feels the twists of the road. The confusion between what he sees and what he feels makes him feel nauseated.

“Though all five of the body’s sensory organs contribute to motion sickness, excess stimulation to the vestibular system within the inner ear which acts as the body’s ‘balance center’ has been shown to be one of the primary reasons for this condition,” says Dr. Yeh.

While most adults have experienced motion sickness at some point in their lives, the feeling may be new to a child. And, since a child can’t always convey how he is feeling – keep an eye on him.  The signs of motion sickness are easy to recognize. Often, children start by getting pale. Yawning, restlessness and a cold sweat are also clues. These are followed by an upset stomach and eventually nausea and vomiting.

Though there is no cure for motions sickness, most children outgrow it with age. Dr. Yeh cautions that a child easily affected during any kind of movement, should visit the doctor to be sure there is nothing wrong with his inner ears or any of the other body parts that sense movement.

Preventing Motion Sickness
Parents whose child is prone to motion sickness, should discuss it with their pediatrician before traveling and ask what medications may be appropriate. To prevent car sickness, Dr. Yeh recommends placing the child in a car seat facing forward (if she is above the recommended weight of 20 pounds), giving the child small snacks, keeping her occupied in order to keep her mind off any symptoms, and preventing her from reading or playing hand-held video games.

The following steps may also help deter the unpleasant symptoms of motion sickness before they occur:

  • Sit in the area of a moving vehicle that has the least motion. In an airplane, this is over the wings; on trains and buses, it is near the front of the vehicle; and on a ship or boat, the deck has the least amount of movement. While the front seat of the car has less motion than the back seat, it is not safe, and children should always be secured in car safety seat or seat belt in the back seat.
  • Encourage children to sleep during travel.
  • Keep the car at a comfortable temperature – remember that the back seat may be different than what you feel in the front. Spray bottles or individual battery powered fans are fun as they cool kids off. Open windows for fresh air whenever possible.
  • Bright sun and glare can make the nausea worse. Try covering the windows or giving your child sunglasses to wear.
  • Play travel games that involve looking outside, to keep your child’s mind occupied. Singing songs together also often helps. On an airplane, try looking out the window. This way, your eyes won’t be fooled into thinking you’re not moving when you actually are.
  • Make frequent stops and take breaks as soon as your child shows symptoms. Some children can only drive for an hour or two before starting to feel sick – take a break before they hit that point!
  • Children, over the recommended weight of 20 pounds, should sit facing forward. Don’t face backward in your seat or sit in a seat that faces backward. Sitting forward helps keep the motion sensed by your eyes and ears the same. Children below the appropriate weight are in more danger from an accident if they face forward than they are from the feeling of nausea.

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