How to keep kids well when travelling by car

FOR many families this summer, the excitement of a holiday trip can be punctured by the words ‘I’m sick’ coming from the back seat of the car.

Car sickness is a type of motion sickness, it’s most common in young children aged two to 12 and it affects 10%-15% of them regularly.

Dr Martin Daly, a GP in Ballygar, Co Galway, explains that our vestibular system (inner ear) senses motion and tells the body about its position relative to the world around it. Our visual system augments the vestibular one.

“Between them, the two systems constantly update our brain on where you are at any given time and how you’re moving.”

Two kinds of scenario can interrupt this system. Your child feels motion but can’t see it – he’s sitting in the back of the car and can’t see out.

 Or your child sees motion but can’t feel it – an older child is sitting in a comfortable car travelling on a smooth road. He’s moving but he can’t feel it.

“When there’s a mismatch between the two systems, your brain can’t update your body’s current status. The resulting confusion leads to motion sickness,” explains Dr Daly.

Symptom-wise, your child will look pale and may feel clammy with cold sweat. They may complain of rotational dizziness – perceiving that things are spinning around them. 

They may hyperventilate, feel nauseous and vomit. Children will feel fatigue and may develop headache or become panicky.

“It’s quite a stressful condition, especially for a young child – he will be well washed out by the time he gets to his destination,” says Dr Daly.

If a child is susceptible, parents should ensure he gets priority as to where he sits in the car – on a higher seat and near the window. “Reassure the child that you will stop the car if he needs to.”

Other measures that will help include steering clear of a big meal or greasy/spicy food prior to a journey. “Give children small amounts of easily digested food, such as plain rice or pasta.”

Reading or looking at screens in the car is a no-no because the child isn’t receiving the visual input that movement is taking place. 

Encourage your child to look out of the window and into the horizon. Distract by singing, talking or listening to the radio. Ensure there’s plenty of fresh air coming into the car.

If your child becomes car-sick, stop the car when it’s safe to do so and let her out to walk around. You could also get her to lie on her back for a few minutes, keeping her eyes closed.


* Ensure child is well hydrated.

* Do not allow children to look at screens or read books.

* Encouraging child to keep still and close eyes may relieve symptoms.

* Ginger supplements can be helpful in combating nausea.

* Phenergan, medication that also acts as an anti-histamine, may be helpful — talk to your GP/pharmacist.

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