Health

Calming Commotion: How to deal with car sickness and more

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Summer vacation is here. You may have road trip plans, airline reservations or a booked berth on a cruise ship. For some travelers, this may also mean motion sickness season. The good news: There are remedies, both medicines and non-drug treatments, that will help prevent and treat queasy stomachs.

Who gets motion sickness?

Children under age 3 typically are not affected by motion sickness, but older children may be, according to Syracuse family physician Jennifer McCaul. “Age 9 sees the maximum incidence of motion sickness, but then it tends to get slowly better over time,” she said, “except for people who don’t grow out of it at all.” She added that women are more likely than men to experience travel-related nausea, vomiting or dizziness.

A physical disconnect can cause stomachs in motion to churn. “It’s kind of like input that’s coming into your body from your eyes and from your middle ear, your balance center,” McCaul said. “When you’re in a car or on a ship, your eyes think that you’re actually stationary, but your vestibular system is telling you that you’re moving.”

For your vacation-planning purposes, here are some doctor-recommended and parent-tested ideas for avoiding motion sickness.

Anti-nausea medicines

For long car drives or airplane flights, McCaul recommends the tried-and-true over-the-counter drugs Dramamine or Benadryl, brand names for antihistamines dimenhydrinate and diphenhydramine. McCaul’s own daughter benefits from Dramamine when flying and she says that the drowsiness of the medicine helps her sleep.

Non-drowsy antihistamines are not as effective in treating dizziness or nausea. “I think it’s probably because when you use something like Benadryl, you’re actually trying to kind of harness its side effects,” she explained. “Those side effects cause dry mouth, decrease the nausea, decrease the stomach rolling. So, basically, they are helpful.”

Meclizine is a prescription antihistamine that comes in chewable and non-chewable tablet form. Brand names for meclizine include Dramamine II and Antivert. Meclizine is used to prevent and control nausea, vomiting, dizziness and vertigo by blocking the brain signals that lead to motion sickness. Your pediatrician can advise you on whether it’s right for your child.

A lifesaver for landlubbers

Teenagers and adults may avoid seasickness with a medicated patch worn behind the ear. The patch emits the drug scopolamine and can be left on for three days at a time. “You change the patch every three days, and it gives off the medicine and decreases the seasickness,” McCaul said.

The maker of the Transderm Scop patch warns that there are no known safe or effective levels of scopolamine in children, so it’s critical to consult with a physician before considering this for younger children.

Non-drug options

Drug-free preventatives for motion sickness include wristbands, ginger candies and changing positions in moving vehicles. There are anti-nausea wristbands available online or at local pharmacies that are safe for children to use. The elastic bands are fitted with small nobs that press on the acupressure point P-6, also called Neiguan, to relieve nausea associated with travel, pregnancy and even chemotherapy. The Sea Band brand is available for less than $10 at many stores.

“I swear by candied ginger,” said Sherry Allen, a Syracuse artist, teacher, mother and grandmother. She experienced motion sickness into adulthood. “When I was traveling, the candied ginger was a saving grace.”

The combination of the spice ginger and sugar in hard or chewy candies can be an effective combo for settling stomachs. McCaul cited a study done by Danish scientists in which naval cadets experiencing seasickness were given either powdered ginger root or a placebo. The ginger significantly reduced vomiting and cold sweats in the sailors.

Maybe you’ve found, as Central New York mom and professor Tula Goenka did with her son Curran, that milk or other liquids before travel increased the odds of his becoming motion sick. She said she tried “all sorts of things, including making sure he didn’t drink milk or eat cereal with milk before getting into the car.”

In a Mayo Clinic online article, Dr. Jay L. Hoecker writes that certain other foods eaten before or during trips may be problematic as well, especially spicy or greasy ones. Bland snacks, like dry crackers and clear liquids, are better to give the kids when road hunger strikes. He also suggests that keeping fresh air flowing through the vehicle can sometimes help.

Other parents know that when their kids read or look at electronic devices, they are more likely to feel ill in the car. That can be a real challenge when peace and quiet makes driving easier.

“Avoiding reading or looking at a screen during a car trip, which when you think about what our kids do in cars now it’s almost impossible, then fixating on the horizon in front of you will help,” the doctor said.

For some children, simply changing the sitting position in a car or other moving vehicle can help with motion sickness. A spot where a child can focus on the view through the windshield is best.

“Have them change where they sit in the car as far toward the front as is practical, or sit in the middle of the back seat instead of the side so that they have to look straight ahead at the horizon instead of looking out the windows,” McCaul advised. 

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