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|Quick reference medical handouts used
by Pediatric offices
Motion Sickness in Children
see also: Take
Steps to avoid Car Sickness
Many children experience nausea and even
vomiting when riding in an airplane, automobile, or amusement park ride, and
this is called motion sickness. Youngsters can also experience motion sickness
when riding on a boat or ship, and this is called seasickness even though it is
the same disorder. Motion sickness or seasickness is usually just a minor
annoyance and does not signify any serious medical illness, but some children
and their families are incapacitated by it, and a few even suffer symptoms for a
few days after the trip is over.
The problem is caused by an inherited sensitivity
of the equilibrium center located in the semicircular canals (inner ear). It is
not, as some people will contend, related to emotional problems.
Your child's sense of balance is maintained by a
complex interaction of the following parts of the nervous system:
- The inner ears (also called the labyrinth),
which monitor the directions of motion, such as turning, or
forward-backward, side-to-side, and up-and-down motions.
- The eyes, which monitor where the body is in
space (i.e. upside down, rightside up, etc.) and also directions of motion.
- The skin pressure receptors such as in the
joints and spine, which tell what part of the body is down and touching the
- The muscle and joint sensory receptors, which
tell what parts of the body are moving.
- The central nervous system (the brain and
spinal cord), which processes all the bits of information from the four
other systems to make some coordinated sense out of it all.
The symptoms of motion sickness appear when the
central nervous system receives conflicting messages from the other four
systems. For example, your child is sitting in the back seat of a moving car
reading a book. Their inner ears and skin receptors will detect the motion of
travel, but their eyes see only the pages of the book. This could make a child
become "car sick."
The symptoms of motion sickness usually start
with a vague feeling of stomach upset (queasiness), a cold sweat, fatigue and
loss of appetite. This then progresses to vomiting. A young child may not be
able to describe queasiness but will demonstrate it by becoming pale and
restless, yawning and crying. Later she will lose her interest in food (even her
favorite ones), and finally, she will vomit
We do not know why this happens more often in
some children than others, but it is most likely due to an increased sensitivity
to the brain's response to motion. This response can be affected by previous bad
car trips but usually improves as a child gets older.
If your child starts to
develop the symptoms of motion sickness, the best thing to do is stop the
activity that is causing the problem. If it occurs in the car, stop as soon as
safely possible and let her get out and walk around. If you are on a long car
trip, you may have to make frequent short stops, but it will be worth it. If it
happens on a swing or merry-go-round, stop the motion promptly and get your
child off the equipment. She probably will be upset and scared, so try to help
her relax. Otherwise, what should be a happy time will become a dreaded
experience. Most important, do not get angry with your child, because she cannot
help what is happening. Be as supportive of her as you can, or she may refuse to
travel or have a temper tantrum the next time you ask her to get into the car or
board a plane or boat.
Because "car sickness" is the most
common form of motion sickness in children, many preventive measures have been
developed. In addition to the frequent stops, you might try the following.
If none of the above works, stop the car and have
your youngster lie on their back for a few minutes with their eyes closed. A
cool cloth on the forehead also tends to lessen the symptoms.
- Place your young child in an approved car
seat, facing forward if over 20 pounds and 1 year of age. Do not let her
move around in the car. (You should not let her do this for safety reasons,
- If she has not eaten for three hours, give
your child a light snack before the trip, which also helps on a boat or
plane. This relieves hunger pangs, which seem to add to the symptoms.
- Try to focus her attention away from the
queasy feeling. Listen to the radio, sing or talk.
- Have her look at things outside the car, not
at books or games.
Treatment for the nausea includes giving them
only sips of clear fluids until their stomach settles. If your child goes to
sleep, let them sleep. Usually, children don't vomit more than once, and
symptoms disappear in about 4 hours. Ask your child's doctor about the use of
nonprescription Dramamine to prevent the motion sickness before it occurs.
Other preventative techniques include:
- Car trips: It will help if your
child looks out the window. Do not look down at books or games in car. After
age 12, children can sit in the front seat and look at the distant scenery
- Sea travel: Avoid it when
practical. Otherwise, stay on deck and look at the horizon.
- Air travel: Select a seat near
- Amusement parks: Avoid rides
- Meals: Eat light meals before or
source: American Academy of Pediatrics and the
American Academy of Otolaryngology. Posted 07-26-04 on kidsgrowth.com
As a reminder, this information should not be relied on as
medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice of your childs pediatrician.
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