By: Heath Reid

Many people begin feeling ill when riding in the car. This “motion sickness” is especially common for children. It can also be experienced when riding on boats (called “seasickness”) and on amusement park rides. The best way to prevent your child from getting car sick is to understand why it happens and what you can do about it. 

What Is Motion Sickness? 

Motion sickness occurs when the brain gets mixed signals from your senses. Your eyes may be seeing one thing while your body feels another, and your inner ears sense something else. It throws off your ability to understand what is actually happening, resulting in your body’s confusion and an ill feeling. 

Motion sickness is triggered by spinning or rolling motions. For example, a tilt-a-whirl amusement park ride spins quickly, often causing motion sickness for riders. When in a motor vehicle, the up and down motion of driving over hills and around curves can simulate a similar experience. 

How Do the Ears Play a Role in Motion Sickness? 

The vestibular system in the inner ear helps you maintain your balance. The vestibular system is made up of two sacs and three pairs of semicircular canals.

The sacs are called the saccule and the utricle. Those sacs send messages to the brain about what is happening in the environment around you. They sense your potion of standing or laying down according to gravity. 

The semicircular canal pairs contain fluid that moves any time you turn your head—or when a car swerves or goes up and downhills. When these parts of the ear experience topsy turvy motions, they send confusing messages to the brain. 

Symptoms of Motion Sickness

Most people experience motion sickness as a dizzy or nauseous feeling. Some people vomit due to motion sickness. More severe symptoms of motion sickness include severe headaches, shallow breathing, extreme tiredness, loss of appetite or pale skin. 

In children ages six and under, dizziness is the most common symptom. For people over the age of 12, nausea is the most common feeling. If you are standing or walking—such as on a boat—you may become unsteady and unable to control your balance. 

Motion sickness has a genetic link. If one biological parent experiences motion sickness, a child is more likely to have it as well. 

Symptoms of motion sickness are often worse for children, especially those under the age of six. It is not related to emotional problems or other health concerns, and children are not able to control how they feel with willpower. 

Tips to Prevent and Relieve Car Sickness for Children

Car sickness does not usually last long for children. Typically once the vehicle becomes more steady, symptoms go away. In many cases, a child can get used to the car’s movement, and their symptoms will naturally be relieved. However, there are actions children can take to prevent and reduce motion sickness. 

  • Focus on a stable object like the horizon 
  • Look through the front windshield of the car
  • Close your eyes and take deep breaths
  • Eat lightly before traveling
  • Roll down the window to get fresh air
  • Avoid reading

Additionally, some natural remedies that help some people avoid and overcome motion sickness include raw ginger and mint. There are also medications such as dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) and scopolamine (Maldemar) which can be taken prior to travel. 

Should I See a Doctor for Motion Sickness? 

While motion sickness does usually go away on its own, there are situations where you should seek medical attention. If you have dizziness, headache or vomiting that lasts multiple days, you should schedule a doctor’s appointment. If you experience hearing loss or chest pain, get immediate medical attention. 

Understanding Motion Sickness Leads to Prevention

Motion sickness is an unfortunate reality for many people, especially children. However, there are ways to prevent it. If you have questions about ongoing car sickness for your child, contact their pediatrician prior to any travel.