Seasickness in Kids

Children are amazing creatures, even from the point of view of science! Here’s a vivid example: they may jump through the hoops on a swing, demonstrating the agility and endurance of astronauts on a centrifuge training, but they immediately begin to feel sick as soon as the family car starts moving toward the school or the store… What’s going on? Why do children get sick in a car, on a plane or a ship, but not on a carousel? Are there reliable remedies against motion sickness in kids?


If children were sick on a swing, the way out would be ridiculously simple… But the trouble is that, as a rule, children suffer from motion sickness in transport, where there is often no way to interrupt the trip. How to ease children’s condition in such complicated situations? We will tell you!

Let it rock, let it rock…

Theoretically, the mechanism of motion sickness is more or less clear, however, in the case with children, there are still some paradoxes. For example, if an adult gets sick on a bus trip when driving on a hilly area, he or she is more likely to suffer on a carousel in the amusement park. However, it is not so simple with children! There are cases when kids feel great, horsing around on a swing, but then they get sick only a quarter of an hour after getting on a plane or car. They start feeling nauseous, look bloodless and white, get languid… Science is not yet able to explain this phenomenon, despite its curiousity.

Indeed, many children aged 2 to 12 years get sick in transport: car, airplane, train, and most of all on a ship.

What causes seasickness?

All vertebrate animals, including people, are provided with an extremely important body – the so-called vestibular system, which is often called an “organ of balance.” Strictly speaking, this system, in close conjunction with the vision, is responsible for controlling our body position enabling us to change the speed of movement. The most important and sensitive part of the vestibular apparatus is the internal division of the ear, the so-called labyrinth, equipped with sensitive fibers – special nerve endings that react to the slightest fluctuations in space and inform our brain about the change of body position.

The vision also provides signals to the brain about our position. Most often, the signals from vestibular apparatus and the vision to the brain contain the same information. In these situations, we feel good. However, when the information is different, our brain cannot establish an adequate body reaction (of most organs and systems) in response to the conflicting signals.

Most people, and children in particular, get sick in transport. It is because visually we see ourselves in motion (objects darting past, images in the window changing, etc.), but at the same time, the vestibular apparatus tells the brain that the body is at rest – because we are not moving relative to the vehicle. Thus, the brain receives radically opposite information from two sources simultaneously – and then the system “fails”.

On board the plane or ship, for example, it is vice versa – the body feels movement (while takeoff and landing or rocking of the vessel), while the eyes see a completely static picture, as if you were sitting in your home chair. However, the result is the same – the brain cannot combine polar information from the eyes and from the vestibular apparatus, and the body gets into a state of kinetosis (medical term for sickness). As a rule, the symptoms of motion sickness appear suddenly, not “growing” slowly.

Contemporary residents of big cities (and lots of children among them) get sick not only in transport but also in 3-D theaters. It happens for the same reason: the brain receives completely opposite signals from the eyes and from the vestibular apparatus, responsible for body position. Vision says, “We are falling into the fiery abyss with Gandalf! (that is why our stomach shrinks to the size of a walnut). Meanwhile, the body reports, “We are sitting in a cinema chair munching popcorn!” At this very moment, nausea rises to our throat…

Symptoms of motion sickness in children

Scientifically speaking, motion sickness is expressed by a whole set of symptoms from the nervous and cardiovascular system, the digestive and pituitary-adrenal system, as well as metabolism. Simply speaking, the symptoms of motion sickness in children are as follows:

  • Severe nausea and vomiting;
  • Dizziness and headache;
  • Increased salivation;
  • Cold sweat on the forehead;
  • Overall weakness;
  • Obvious skin paleness.

Generally, mild symptoms of motion sickness can occur in children as young as 2 years and older. In children under 2, seasickness symptoms occur rarely and are almost indistinguishable from their usual state – in fact, little kids often behave restlessly, cry, and regurgitate without any rocking movements. Most often, children under 2 are rather overcome by sleepiness on the road than the symptoms of motion sickness (because neither their vestibular apparatus, nor the organs of vision are formed properly yet).

Many parents of babies will confirm – there is no better way to lull the child to sleep than to get into the car and start the engine…

We cannot say definitely why some children get seasick and others do not. After all, according to human nature, absolutely everyone and at the same time no one in particular can get seasick. The fact is that the vestibular system can be trained and strengthened. As a result, the body’s reaction to the “strange” body position, which is not typical of us in everyday life, becomes more calm and reasonable.

Research observations have shown that, for example, among the people traveling by sea for the first time, about 92% showed pronounced symptoms of motion sickness. However, among those who traveled by sea again, only 39% suffered from seasickness. Finally, only one in seven of those who boarded the ship for the third time (“sea wolves”) got seasick.

By the way, the same pattern is observed among sailors – the higher the experience of a “sea wolf”, the more severe storms he is able to endure comfortably.

Help and remedies against motion sickness in children

So, the symptoms of motion sickness occur in response to the information dissonance that can not be adequately perceived by the brain: the eyes say one thing about our position in space, the body says a completely different thing… So, the remedies against motion sickness are mainly aimed to overcome this dissonance. Thus, here are some techniques that effectively help with motion sickness:

If a child gets sick in a car, put him or her in the back seat so that the kid can look forward and see the road you drive on. Once the eye finds a “supporting point” and gives relevant information to the brain, the child will immediately feel better, and motion sickness symptoms will begin to recede. Note that any (even the most neutral) air freshener in the car multiplies the risk of motion sickness. Just like an adult passenger’s strong perfume and traces of smoke.

What should you do if you cannot provide your eyes with a “supporting point”? For example, when flying in an airplane, only pilots are able to look into the distance, but even they often see little in the windshield, except clouds… In this case you need to do the opposite thing – to seek salvation not with the eyes, but with the body. If a kid feels sick on a plane, you should try to take a seat on board that sways the least. If you are traveling with your child by plane, try to get him/her to a place near the wing – that’s where the amplitude of oscillations is the smallest.

If the child gets sick in a train, it is best to sit by the window and necessarily in the direction of the train movement (and not sitting backwards!).

If your kid is seasick on a ship, it is best to give up voyages at all! The fact is that ships do not have such places where swaying is felt the least or most acutely – they shake the same in every corner. And the eye has nothing to focus on – everything you have around you is the water and the sky, and they both sway.

It is better to feed the baby, who usually feels sick during a trip, about one and a half hours before the trip or before the flight. Moreover, it is highly desirable that this meal should not include fatty and sugary foods.

What should the kid drink when feeling sick? There is a well-known fact – short and frequent swallowing movements help reduce the urge to vomiting and nausea. But it’s an adult who can sit in a chair and swallow periodically without any liquid. A kid can hardly do this. Therefore, if a child is sick in transport and vomits, you should give him/her a cold drink and ask to swallow this liquid in small portions. But in any case, do not choose sweet drinks (even with ice) – they will fail to relieve nausea and will provoke vomiting instead.

The best drink recipe for motion sickness is as follows: cut 2 apples into small pieces and drop them in 1 liter of boiling water. Grate ginger cubes approximately 3×3 cm in size. Cool the mixture, add ice and pour the drink into a cold thermos. The colder the drink is the better and faster it will relieve nausea during motion sickness. If your baby lacks sweetness in this recipe, add a few berries of dried apricots and raisins into the boiling water.

Of course, you will not be allowed to board the plane with a thermos. When onboard, you will have to give some candies to the child – it will force him/her to make small natural sucking movements in the pharynx, which will reduce the negative symptoms of motion sickness. There are plants that are helpful in case of motion sickness. One of them is mint. So mint caramel is a pretty effective way to cope with motion sickness; besides, there is hardly a child who will decline the offer of such “medicine”.

Nothing increases the risk of motion sickness and enhances its symptoms so strongly as the lack of fresh air. So if there is any possibility to ventilate a car, a train compartment, or just stop and get out to breathe – do it! In the airplane, you can seat the child in the center chair and send the air from all the three fans on him/her.

Very rarely (we can even say almost never) adults and children do not feel sick if they sleep during a trip or a flight. Knowing that your baby is suffering from seasickness, plan to travel or fly for most of the trip to come at a time when the child usually sleeps.

Pharmaceutical medications for motion sickness in children

The shelves of pharmacies are full of all sorts of medications, including those for motion sickness: cheaper and more expensive pills in the form of bracelets and hand patches, etc. You may not know or remember the names of all the existing products for treating motion sickness, but if you are the parent of a child with a clear tendency to seasickness, you need to learn “by heart” one international name – “dimenhydrinate”.

  • Dimenhydrinate is the only substance in the world that helps to partly cope with the symptoms of motion sickness. It is officially allowed to use this medication in children that are 2 or more years old.
  • Despite the fact that there are significantly more medicines for an adult seasick person, they should not be given to children. It is better to have some medications based on dimenhydrinate in store (for example, for the time of travel).
  • However, it should be remembered that all medicines for motion sickness (both for adults and children) cause a number of side effects: some general weakness, drowsiness, likely worsening of asthmatic symptoms, etc.

Acupressure for motion sickness

The effectiveness of most forms of non-standard treatment of the motion sickness syndrome, such as psychotherapy, self-hypnosis, self-training, placebo pills, etc., has not been proven by official science yet, but there is still only one traditional way to treat motion sickness, the validity of which has been officially confirmed even by medical researchers. This is acupressure for motion sickness.

How can you do acupressure if you are sick:

Find the child’s base of the palm (right or left). Measure the thickness of three fingers from this point up (the child’s fingers, not yours!). On this line you can mentally find the middle – this is the first point for massage. It must be just rubbed with your fingers strong enough, but without aggression.

The second point for massaging is located at the end of the jaw, just below the earlobe. And it is better to massage this place on both sides – in the right and left corners of the jaw.

Factors that increase the risk of motion sickness and seasickness

There are circumstances which significantly increase the risk of symptoms of motion sickness. The most important ones are:

  • The child’s age – from 2 to 12 years. Up to 2 years of age, the symptoms of motion sickness do not appear at all (with rare exceptions), and after 12 years they disappear or are significantly weakened.
  • Girls suffer from motion sickness almost twice as often as boys and more severely.
  • There is a group of medicines that can enhance motion sickness. As a rule, nausea and vomiting will come first in the list of their side effects. Such drugs include, for example, certain antibiotics, nearly all anti-helminth pills, and many antidepressants. By the way, for adults this list is much wider.

Cases of sickness, when you need medical help

Seasickness can hardly refer to the number of dangerous diseases that threaten the child’s health. At the same time, there are cases when even this seemingly harmless situation requires medical attention. For example:

Almost 100% of cases of motion sickness disappear almost immediately after the child gets out of the car or the plane, or leaves the deck of the ship, touching solid ground. However, if the symptoms of motion sickness do not let your child go even an hour and a half after the end of the trip, and the baby continues to feel nauseous, it is the reason to see a doctor.

If your child has severe diseases of eye (myopia, strabismus, astigmatism, cataract, glaucoma, etc.), or diseases that affect the inner ear (e.g., internal otitis), he/she should be shown to the specialist after a strong seasickness attack.

Many children are sick in transport; it is a medical fact. It may not be pleasant, but it is not fatal. In addition, the parents of the kids prone to motion sickness should definitely be solaced by the fact that as their children reach the age of 12 years, they in most cases will be highly resistant to virtually any transport conditions.

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