Car Sick? Symptoms and How To Prevent and Treat

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This cutie pie looks like she's enjoying her ride...but maybe in an hour...

If you don’t have a child that gets motion sickness or car sickness, count yourself one of the lucky ones. The rest of us worry about “that look”, that queasy look: pale grey face, open mouth, cold sweat and….STOP! There are ways to work with motions sickness, from the traditional advice of: “open the window” to “ginger root.” Most of them are suggestions I have culled from sites where  parents have figured out how to help their kids “stomach” being in the car.

P.S. – my son never got car sick until he was 4 years old, so tuck this post away for the future…just in case!

What is motion sickness? Basically, motion sickness results from a conflict between the eye and ear: the inner ears detect that the car is moving, but the eyes– focused within the car– do not. The brain gets conflicting signals, and nausea results, states.

As KidsHealth explains, For example, if you’re riding in a car and reading a book, your inner ears and skin receptors will detect that you are moving forward. However, your eyes are looking at a book that isn’t moving, and your muscle receptors are telling your brain that you’re sitting still. So the brain gets a little confused. Things may begin to feel a little scrambled inside your head at that point.  When this happens, you might feel really tired, dizzy, or sick to your stomach. Sometimes you might even throw up. And if you’re feeling scared or anxious, your motion sickness might get even worse.

How to tell if your child is queasy? If your child is old enough, they might say their stomach hurts, or they feel sick, or complain that their throat or neck hurts– all of which gives you time to fix the problem before the vomiting starts. They also might break out in a sweat, get restless and look pale.  If your child can’t verbalize it, they might cry a lot while in the car.  Their skin might look pale or wiggle around in their car seat.  It turns out that rear-facing car seats are the enemy of car sick children. It’s a total bummer, but it’s true.

Here are some suggestions from parents:

  • Put your child closer to the middle of the vehicle (or boat for that matter). Being on the outside seats of a vehicle make children queasier.
  • Have them look out the windshield at the horizon, not the side windows. Thus #1 becomes a big part of this solution.
  • There is something about ginger that helps with motion sickness. Try favored ginger snaps, ginger root capsules and ginger ale. Consume the ginger before the trip and also intermittently during the trip.
  • Seabands work for my niece. They are elastic wrist bands with hard buttons that push into the inside of each wrist, creating accupressure points to help with the nausea. My niece puts them on before she gets in the car. You can buy them at any pharmacy.
  • My niece also gets a dose of  Drammamine a couple of hours before a car trip. (Though talk to your pediatrican beforehand about this and dosages.) Other parents suggest Benadryl.
  • Wear wrap around sun glasses- yes, really. This creates a visual vacuum.
  • Some people swear by lollipops. They work for me.
  • Open a window: fresh air can adjust your brain signals to understand that you are in motion.
  • Keep vomit bags and a change of clothes in the car.

If you have any tips or suggestions, please leave them here so the rest of us can benefit!

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  1. oh Tracy- I feel for you. You have totally become an expert in car barfing! Thank you for your suggestions. I’m going to try the lollipops. I’ve only tried gingersnaps and dark glasses (so so results).

    I hope both your children outgrow it totally! My 9 year old niece still fights it every time. Ugh!

  2. Both of my kids get car sick. My 2 yr old gets it on anything more than around town driving and always when I’m driving around looking for parking in a busy area. The 4 yr old used to get it badly, but is starting to outgrow it. I’ve tried it all. What does help the 2 yr old is that she sits behind the (usually unoccupied) passenger seat, so I take off the headrest and recline the passenger seat so she can see out the front window. Watching a DVD helps. The SeaBands (and two other different brand bands) didn’t work. I concur, the lollipops do work! Although I don’t really like using meds, the Benedryl works for about 4 hours, but it puts them to sleep (as one of the pediatricians in our office says, “If they’re sleeping, they’re not puking.”). I’m not really crazy about the idea of drugging my kids, though, so we pretty much deal with what we get. We put on the SeaBands, eat lollies, keep barf bowls lined with plastic bags in the car at all times, wear a Bumkins bib with a big front pocket on them, and a long towel across the lap and tucked up near the armpits so it catches everything & doesn’t hit the carseat (I have taken the carseat apart WAY TOO MANY TIMES in order to clean up the barf). And, yes, always keep a few changes of clothes in the car. [Incidentally, the acupressure bands did work for me (I get major motion and sea sickness) when I was 6 months preggers and went on a cruise. I didn't want to wear the patch, since I was pregnant, so we booked a room down on the 3rd deck and towards the center of the ship. I wore the bands for a few days, then was able to take them off for the rest of the cruise without any issues.]

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