General Health

Understanding Motion Sickness in Children – Essential Tips for Your Family Travels

Dr. Uyen Nguyen
Understanding Motion Sickness in Children – Essential Tips for Your Family Travels

What is Motion Sickness?
Motion sickness is common, especially in children. But what causes it is only partly understood, and why some children have it and others don’t is unknown.

Carsickness isn’t really about the car. It’s about the brain’s ability to interpret a message based on what it senses. Normally, the eyes, ears, and joints all send signals to the brain, and the signals are similar. If you’re traveling in a car, most body parts tell the brain: “We’re moving forward.”

But if children are sitting too low to see through the window to the horizon or if they are looking down and reading at the same time, their brain is getting different messages. The part of the ear that controls balance and motion says, “We’re moving,” but the message from the eyes says, “We’re sitting still and looking at a book!”

This leads to a sensory mismatch that overloads and confuses the brain. The result is nausea. This can be a problem when children are not looking out the windshield.

What are Symptoms of Motion Sickness?
If your children are too young to express themselves, you can suspect carsickness if they become:

  • Bad-tempered
  • Begin to yawn frequently
  • Sweaty and pale
  • Restless

young children in a car

Dr. Nguyen’s Tips to Avoid and Manage Car Sickness

  • Stop frequently, and at the first sign of symptoms. Before leaving home, give children some crackers or other light snacks. Avoid smoking or carrying any strong-smelling foods in the car.
  • Elevate your children (with approved child safety seats or booster seats) so that they can see the horizon through the windshield. Remember, though, that children younger than age 2 need to be in rear-facing car seats (unless they have reached the highest weight or height allowed by the car seat manufacturer).
  • Entertain young children with activities that keep them from looking down. Instead of using books, try playing music for them to listen to.
  • If your children get carsick, stop as soon as possible. Have them lie down until the dizziness passes. If they have vomited, offer them cold water and a light snack when nausea passes.
  • If carsickness is a regular problem, talk with your healthcare provider. He or she may suggest an over-the-counter travel sickness medicine for children older than age 2. Be sure to use the proper amount based on your children’s age. Some of these medicines cause sleepiness or even agitation. Always get advice from your healthcare provider and be careful when using them. Do not use a motion sickness patch because it contains too high a dosage for children.

Dr. Nguyen

About Dr. Nguyen
Dr. Uyen Nguyen specializes in Pediatrics at Children’s Pediatrics, Northlake location. After earning her medical degree from Ross University School of Medicine in Dominica, Dr. Nguyen completed her pediatric residency at Louisiana State University in Shreveport, LA. Dr. Nguyen chose to practice pediatrics because she believes in providing quality medical care to both families and children from birth until adulthood. She is passionate about promoting and contributing to children’s health, understanding each individual child and helping them lead happy healthy lives.