I really love this TEDEd video explaining motion sickness. What I find most helpful is the admission that we humans still know very little about motion sickness, why gender differences exist (women get motion disturbance more often than men), and how to put a stop to it. No question children get motion sickness well before they’re old enough to tell us exactly how they feel. Often it’s screaming or fussing only in the car or a series of vomiting episodes that clues us in. A few tips for families, planning that last-minute summer road trip, to help support children who are prone to get sick in the car, on the train, at the park, or up in the air during a bumpy ride.

Motion Sickness In Children

  • Disconnect: Know that motion sickness comes about when there is a disconnect between what our eyes see, what the fluid in our inner ears knows about our position and direction, what our skin senses, and what our muscles feel while we’re positioned wherever we are. This disconnect in all these sensors around our body leaves the brain “confused” and for unknown reasons we’re left feeling nauseated, uneasy or achy. This can happen quickly and can happen even on a swing at the park. It really doesn’t take a jet airplane or an automobile driving quickly on a curvy road to elicit this unease and malaise. This can happen in the back yard! There’s often another disconnect, for those who don’t get motion sickness there is often little insight into how horrible a child or adult can feel while experiencing this. This reality, of course, only increases the displeasure for the person ill. But know this, some experts observe that everyone, given enough mismatch and motion–say a group of people in a life-raft in turbulent seas–will get sick from motion.
  • Common: Motion sickness is fairly common with most reports stating that 1/4 to 1/3 of adults may experience it. In school-age children, a recent European study found the prevalence of motion sickness was 43.4 % in car, 43.2 % on bus, 11.7 % on park swing, and 11.6 % on Ferris wheel. Like adults, most children report dizziness, nausea, or headache when their body is triggered by motion. And although some research claims motion sickness doesn’t start until age 2, I’ve certainly learned from parents that some young children don’t love riding in the car and show it. More preventing and treating it:

Preventing And Treating Motion Sickness In Children

    1. Set children up for success. After age 2, have children forward-facing in the car if prone to motion sickness. Avoid the use of tablets, phones, books, or games in the car that take your child’s eyes off the outside world and direct them onto a fixed object (creates a disconnect of messages between your child’s body and their eyes). If in the airplane, get a window seat for those prone to air sickness and don’t sit in the bulkhead. Choose a spot in the middle of the aircraft — you want to get visual information regarding the tilt from the plane in which you’re traveling.
    2. Optimize each sensory system. Remember to think about your child’s eyes, inner ears (position), their skin, and their body position. If in the car or plane, turn up the vents so air is blowing on the skin (providing information of motion), have children focus on the horizon while looking out the windows, have them sit upright and have them face forward. If on a boat, sit near the boat’s center to minimize tilt and side-to-side movement and get outside in the breeze whenever you can.
    3. Provide distractions for your child (music, conversation) like telling a story or reading aloud to them if stuck in a moment of motion sickness without an ability to move or optimize their position.
    4. Treatment: prevention is likely the best treatment, along with avoidance of travel that elicits unease. However, if someone you love is repeatedly sick from motion and/or has travel that is unavoidable there are some medications that can be used. Occasionally children over age 2 are prescribed specific antihistamines (dimenhydrinate AKA Dramamine) or anti-nausea medications. However, don’t just reach for OTC meds without advice as some antihistamines (like cetirizine or fexofenadine) are unlikely to help as they don’t reach the brain. And remember many of the medications carry side effects like excitability, constipation, or drowsiness that can be troublesome as well. Don’t hesitate to talk with your child’s clinician if motion sickness is a recurrent issue and if you think your child needs medication.