How to Prevent and Treat Car Sickness in Kids

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University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children'sExperts in Children's Health
A young girl listening to music on smart phone while looking out the window of a car

Car sickness is a common problem in young children—but don’t blame it on the car. It’s actually a form of motion sickness, a broader condition in which movement brings on symptoms such as dizziness and nausea. This problem may occur not only in cars, but also on boats, planes, trains and amusement park rides.

Why do some little ones feel sick more easily than others? Douglas Hackenberg, MD at University Hospitals Rainbow Children’s Medical Group, explains that the issue may be due to increased sensitivity in part of the inner ear that plays a key role in balance, as well as the brain receiving signals from eye, ears and other sensations.

Taking Preventive Steps

“Young children ages 2 to 12 are especially prone to motion sickness,” says Dr. Hackenberg. “If it isn’t managed, it can make traveling stressful for everyone. But by planning ahead, you can usually keep it in check”. He suggests trying these tips:

  • Use anti-motion sickness medicine. Dimenhydrinate (such as Dramamine) is sold in chewable tablets for kids ages 2 and older. It’s available without a prescription. This medicine should be given an hour before traveling, and one dose helps prevent symptoms for about six hours.
  • Consider child-sized acupressure wristbands (such as Sea-Bands) for additional help. Putting a band around each of your child’s wrists before beginning your trip may help relieve nausea by stimulating pressure points.
  • Bring the right entertainment along. Looking at a book or device screen may trigger symptoms. Listening to music or an audio story is a better option.
  • Focusing on objects outside of the car. Sometimes fresh air and focusing attention outside of the vehicle can provide enough additional information to the brain to ease the cycle of motion sickness.

Caring for Motion Sickness

Many people associate motion sickness with throwing up. But in children younger than age 6, the main symptoms are dizziness and wanting to lie down. Other potential symptoms include unsteady walking, nausea and vomiting.

If symptoms of motion sickness have already begun, offer only sips of water until your child’s tummy settles down. Keep a vomit pan or bag handy, just in case. Encourage rest – your little one may even doze off.

“The good news is that motion sickness usually goes away within four hours after the motion stops,” says Dr. Hackenberg. “If the symptoms last for more than eight hours however, you should call your child’s pediatrician for advice.”

If your child feels dizzy or unsteady, and it doesn’t seem linked to movement, talk with your child’s pediatrician. This may be a sign of something else, such as vertigo (an abnormal spinning sensation) or other issues with the body’s balance system.

Related Links

University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s has the region’s largest coordinated network of pediatric primary care providers, committed to delivering the very best care to children of all ages, including routine immunizations. Find a UH Rainbow pediatric practice near you.

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