Car Sickness: Potential Causes and Remedies

Once you understand the reason why children experience motion sickness, the preventatives will make perfect sense. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that car sickness is related to “the brain’s ability to interpret a message based on what it senses.”   When one is traveling in a car, the eyes, ears and joints convey to the brain, “We are moving forward.” For a child who is looking down while engaged in an activity, the brain receives a different message. The part of the ear that controls balance and motion senses movement while the eyes believe the body is sitting still. Children then experience a “sensory mismatch that overloads and confuses the brain.” If your child is not looking forward out the window, the result can escalate from nausea to sickness.

Recognizing Symptoms

While your child may not be able to convey feeling dizzy or restless, you will be able to see his pale, fatigued, or sweaty appearance. A non-alarming question, such as “Is everyone okay?” asked periodically, will assess how everyone is feeling.

Acting Fast!

For many parents, acting quickly can help to save a further disaster. By keeping gallon-sized Ziploc bags within arms’ reach and already opened, you can assist in “containing” the body’s fluids. Fresh air to the vehicle and child who just experienced motion sickness is the next step to helping a child feel much better. Keeping crackers and chilled water on hand will also help.

Tips to Prevent Sickness

Family Games and Listening Devices

One of the most important tips is to encourage your children to focus on the horizon. This can be accomplished through family participatory games and intriguing listening opportunities.  

A few examples are:

  • Playing a favorite car game, such as “I Spy” or the alphabet or license plate game.
  • Captivating audio books or music that causes your child to listen or sing along would help with especially long car trips.
  • Try to limit activities such as hand-held games or reading to roughly 30-minute intervals.

Stopping Frequently

How often have you opened the door after hours in the car and realized the air quality was less than adequate? This, too, can trigger feelings of nausea; therefore, consider the following advice:

  • Lollipops, peppermint candies and ginger snap cookies are wonderful to appease an upset belly; therefore, if you have made a “snack bag” for your child, consider these additions.
  • Children will be less likely to fall sick if their body temperature is cooler; therefore, keep the AC comfortable for all of your passengers. Ice packs or a cool cloth placed at the wrist, forehead and neck, if possible, can also help a child transition from a day of activity to riding in the car with comfort. Remember, applying these for only ten minutes is enough, and will certainly do wonders!
  • Children who sit in the middle and can see out the front, rather than the side windows, rarely suffer from nausea.
  • While traveling, try to avoid having your child eat spicy, overly sweet, or greasy foods, and especially a large meal prior to, or during, traveling. Motion combined with a full stomach can lead to the need for longer periods of rest; therefore, if your family has few available options on the road, park at a great distance from your desired stop. After a meal, walking back to the car may help everyone in the family.
  • If your family has a sunroof or a means to ventilate, it would be helpful to circulate the air. Opening the windows a quarter of the way a few minutes prior to stopping can make a remarkable difference in a vehicle’s air quality.

Research has yet to determine why some children are significantly affected by motion sickness while others are not. We hope that, with these suggestions, this summer can be spent in communication, togetherness, games and great health!