My little grandson, Otto, struggles with carsickness, so this topic has been on my mind of late.
Carsickness, of course, is a sensation of dizziness, fatigue, restlessness, confusion, nausea or actual vomiting associated with car rides or other movements. The actual mechanism is a dissociation of visual from spatial sensory input. In other words, the eyes misperceive where the inner ear says the body is going (or vice versa). It can occur 1-18 years of age but is most common in 4-13 years, peaking age 6-9, usually dissipating thereafter. Perhaps 30% of children have some symptoms, 5% have severe/prolonged/frequent symptoms. 10% even report problems on swings and slides.
What can we do? Some suggestions:
- Proper seat positioning–front facing is better than rear (but only if its safe–children should be rear facing until AT LEAST age 2, and sit in the back until > 90lb)
- Plenty of fluids before/during the drive. Adequate hydration will mitigate symptoms.
- Keep window down when feasible–fresh air also relieves some of the problem.
- If possible, warm the car up during cold months so the child can sit in their seat without heavy outer clothing, increasing comfort and easing symptoms during the ride.
- Distractions– as with seasickness better to look to the horizon, its best to focus out of the car. ‘I spy” games are good; pointing out interesting sites like mountains, buildings, even road signs. Anything requiring close looking is bad–movies/videos; video games are the worst(no surprise!). Nontechnical interactive games (“Madlibs”) can be a fun way to shift the child’s focus. Audio pass times, like singalongs, listening to music, audio books are another good strategy.
- Snacks before or during the ride. Light, “neutral” foods like crackers, ice pops, non-acidic fruits are good; heavy, fatty, greasy foods, or very salty, spicy fair with strong odors–not so much.
- Be aware of your child’s symptoms. Poor color, change in demeanor, evidence of anxiety, and, of course, if your verbal child complains of symptoms–consider stop and take a brief walk for some fresh air.
- Patience and humor–car sickness certainly has a clear psychological component. An easygoing, approach to your child’s difficulties–to limit anxiety or negative feelings on their part–is essential. Junior vomited in the car? Gross, but relax: wash it out and the odor is gone, tomorrow you will forget it and in a few years it’ll be a humorous family anecdote!
- If all else fails, try some anti-histamines. Dramimine for > age 2, benadryl can be used for younger kids. These medicines may cause drowsiness which can be of benefit, if the child sleeps through some of the symptoms. However, be aware of a “paradoxical reaction“–some children experience agitation, irritability, confusion, even transient hyperactivity from antihistamines which can be unpleasant or even worsen the underlying problem. So (as always!) try everything else before considering drugs.
If your child struggles from car/motion sickness, please give me a call and let’s discuss it. Thanks for following.
Kudos to the NY Times Parenting blog for some of the inspiration for this blog post.