Stop the Car: Motion Sickness

It’s not certain why some people suffer from motion sickness, but there are measures you can take to try and reduce the risk for your children
By Chareen Boake

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A family holiday is a very exciting event, but getting to your destination can be frustrating, especially if a passenger suffers from motion sickness. It’s not certain why some people suffer from motion sickness (also called travel sickness) while others don’t, but many experts believe it happens when the brain is confused by conflicting messages that it’s receiving from the body’s motion sensors.
 
The brain accumulates information from the eyes, skin, inner ear and muscles and if this information doesn’t agree, it results in motion sickness. If you are reading in a moving car, for example, your eyes are focused on a set position and the brain assumes you’re sitting still. However, the delicate sensors in your inner ear will be picking up changes in balance as you move to and fro with the movement of the car. This discrepancy affects the body’s equilibrium causing the common symptoms of motion sickness: cold sweats, fatigue, dizziness, headaches and nausea. Certain computer and virtual simulation games can also cause motion sickness.
 
According to Johannesburg-based GP Dr Theo Louridas, although motion sickness is unpleasant, it has no lasting effects. He warns that if these symptoms occur frequently and without travel, it could be indicative of more serious problems related to the cerebellum or possibly even a tumour and you should consult your doctor.
 
Motion sickness rarely affects infants; it is more common in toddlers and children. Although some children do outgrow it by age 12, it often continues into adulthood. Children are more likely to suffer from motion sickness if they’re susceptible to nausea or vomiting, or experience heightened levels of anxiety. Other triggers may include: the vehicle being poorly ventilated or too hot, or the child having their head turned to look out of the side window. Discovering whether your child suffers from motion sickness is a trial and error exercise, but there are measures that you can take to try and reduce the risk of motion sickness. Natural remedies such as ginger help relieve nausea while certain earplugs and wristbands are said to relieve motion sickness. There are also several over-the-counter medications to treat motion sickness and nausea.  
 
Be Prepared
 
  • Car: strap your child in the middle seat (if it has an over-the-shoulder belt), encouraging them to look straight ahead rather than out of the side window.
  • Plane: ask for a window seat towards the front.
  • Eat frequent light, bland snacks like rice cakes or banana and avoid sugary snacks, fatty foods or dairy.
  • Try to travel during children’s nap times or overnight if you’re driving.
  • Cover the window beside the child to keep the sun off their bodies and reduce stress on the eyes.
  • Distract children with singing or games like “I spy”. Limit reading, colouring-in and hand-held computer games.
  • Plan your trip along the straightest road, preferably a freeway with fewer bumps, and stop regularly.
  • Place a cool cloth on the forehead and rest the head against the seat to keep it as still as possible.
  • Make sure the car is cool. Small battery-powered fans and spray bottles are useful if you don’t have air conditioner.
  • Take a potty, towels or nappies to catch vomit and plastic packets to seal the soiled items; bad odours can lead to further nausea.
  • Travel with spare clothes, a face cloth, wet wipes and fabric spray.

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