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Motion Sickness

What is motion sickness?

Motion sickness is when your child gets dizzy and nauseated while riding in the car, a boat, train, airplane, or on amusement park rides. Other symptoms are an unsteady gait and vomiting. Motion sickness is common, occurring in 25% of young children.

What causes motion sickness?

Motion sickness is due to increased sensitivity of the equilibrium center found in the inner ear to motion. It’s an inherited disorder, and if one of the parents has it, 50% of the children will probably have it. It’s not related to emotional problems and your child cannot control it with will power.

How long will it last?

All the symptoms of motion sickness usually disappear within 4 hours after stopping the trigger or motion. Have your child lie down and rest. If your child goes to sleep, all the better. But keep a vomiting pan handy. Usually children don't vomit more than once with motion sickness. As for the future, people usually don’t outgrow motion sickness, though it may become less severe in adults.

What is the treatment?

Have your child lie down and keep a vomiting pan handy. Give him only sips of clear fluids until his stomach settles down. If your child goes to sleep, let him sleep. Usually, children don't vomit more than once, and all symptoms disappear in about 4 hours.

How can I prevent motion sickness?

  • Car trips: If your child is over 12 years old, have him sit in the front seat and at window level. Before age 12, have your child sit in the middle back seat. Have your child look out the front window, not the side one. Discourage looking at books or watching DVDs during car travel. Keep a window cracked to provide fresh air. Avoid exhaust fumes from other vehicles.
  • Amusement parks: Have your child avoid rides that spin (like the Tilt-a-Whirl). Some children can't even look at whirling rides without becoming motion sick. Your child will probably do fine on the Ferris wheel.
  • Boat trips: Avoid them when practical. Otherwise, stay on deck and look at the horizon. Boating on small lakes is usually tolerated.
  • Air travel: Airsickness can be helped by selecting a seat near the wings or center of the aircraft, since turbulence is felt least there.
  • Meals: Have your child eat light meals before trips. Some children can just tolerate crackers and water.
  • Plastic bags: Always carry a ziplock plastic bag for vomiting emergencies.
  • Anti-nausea medicines: In the future, give Dramamine or Bonine to prevent motion sickness. They can be purchased without a prescription. Dramamine comes in 50-mg tablets and chewable tablets. The dosage is 1 tablet for children 6 to 12 years old, and 2 tablets for children over 12 years. Give the medicine at least 1 hour before traveling or going to an amusement park. The medicine gives 6 hours of protection.
  • Wrist bands: Acupressure bands (SeaBands) are effective for some adults. There is no reason why they shouldn’t work for some children. Put them on before car trips or other causes of motion sickness. The pressure button goes over the center of the wrist and one-half inch (1 cm) above the wrist crease.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-01-15
Last reviewed: 2012-05-14
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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