Summer is beckoning, and with it comes memorable family vacations or trips to visit relatives. But whether you’re traveling by car, train or airplane, motion sickness may tag along as an unwelcome companion.

Motion sickness is a common problem that often begins in childhood. Symptoms may include nausea, cold sweats, dizziness and vomiting. It’s all due to an increased sensitivity of the inner ear. The brain receives signals about movement from the inner ears, eyes, muscles and joints. When these signals don’t match, people may experience motion sickness. For example, if your child is riding in a car with his eyes looking down to read but his inner ear senses motion, his brain can get mixed signals and nausea may follow.

The tendency to have motion sickness is usually inherited, and it’s important to recognize that children can’t control motion sickness with willpower.

The good news is motion sickness isn’t linked to any physical disease and symptoms usually pass within four hours of stopping the motion. If your child does get sick during travel, have him lie down and keep a vomiting pan or bag handy. Give only sips of clear fluids until the stomach settles.

Prevent Motion Sickness

Motion sickness symptoms can usually be prevented or at least reduced with a few simple steps.

  • In cars/vans, children who are younger than 13 years old should sit in the middle back seat. Encourage your child to look out the front window rather than a side window.
  • In a plane, choose a seat near the wings or center of the aircraft, where there’s less turbulence.
  • Avoid reading books, watching movies or playing hand-held video games during car travel. Entertain your child with audiotapes you’ve recorded or games that require looking out the window.
  • Keep a window cracked to provide fresh air.
  • Carry a zippered plastic bag in case of vomiting.
  • Have your child eat a light meal before trips (Crackers and water may be all he can handle.); avoid heavy, greasy meals.
  • Avoid spinning rides at amusement parks.
  • Talk to your pediatrician about whether your child might need anti-nausea medication.

If you have questions about motion sickness, talk to your pediatrician or contact the Family Resource Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

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