About motion sickness
Motion sickness or travel sickness happens when your inner ear ‘tells’ your brain you’re moving but your eyes ‘say’ that your body is still. Or it can happen the other way around – your inner ear says you’re still, and your eyes say you’re moving. Either way, there’s a clash of information in the brain, which can cause vomiting, nausea and dizziness.
Motion sickness often happens when children travel in cars or on buses, but it can happen on planes and ships too. Children might also get motion sickness when they go on swings, roundabouts, ferris wheels or amusement park rides. Some children get motion sickness when they play video games.
Motion sickness is common in children. Almost 1 in 2 children get motion sickness at some stage. Children aged 10-12 years are most likely to get motion sickness. Children older than this are less likely to get it. It’s also unusual for children under 12 months to get motion sickness.
Children with a family or personal history of migraines or motion sickness, inner ear conditions like vertigo, or a fear of heights are more likely to get motion sickness.
Symptoms of motion sickness
If your child has motion sickness, they might:
- have nausea
- feel dizzy
- have a headache
- feel that something bad or unusual is about to happen
- seem uncoordinated.
Young children might not be able to tell you how they’re feeling. So if your younger child seems pale, afraid, distressed or lethargic when you’re travelling, they might have motion sickness.
You might notice that your child doesn’t want to get in your car or go on the bus. Or there might be play equipment that your child doesn’t like. These could be signs that your child gets motion sickness but can’t tell you about it.
Medical help: when to get it for children with motion sickness
Motion sickness usually goes away by itself, often after your child gets out of the moving vehicle.
But if your child vomits a lot when they travel, take your child to see your GP.
Your GP will ask about your child’s symptoms. If the GP thinks that your child has motion sickness, they might suggest strategies and medicines to help.
How to handle motion sickness
Your child might be able to avoid motion sickness by:
- looking at the road ahead or at the horizon
- trying to keep their head still
- not reading or using devices while travelling
- getting some fresh air by opening a window or turning on a fan
- eating and drinking small amounts regularly, rather than having large meals
- singing songs or playing games to take their mind off feeling sick
- taking breaks from travel every so often, if possible.
Where your child sits in a train, bus, plane or car can affect whether they get motion sickness. Your child might be able to avoid motion sickness by sitting:
- in a forward-facing seat on a train or bus
- in a seat near the wings of a plane
- in a front car seat, if they can do so legally and safely
- on the lower deck of a ship.
These locations can reduce your child’s sensation of being in a moving vehicle, which can help your child avoid motion sickness.
If you know your child gets motion sickness a lot, it can be a good idea to have a container, disposable bags, wipes and a spare change of clothes handy, in case your child vomits.
Medicines and other treatment for motion sickness
If the strategies above don’t help with your child’s motion sickness, you might want to talk to your GP about motion sickness medicine.
Your doctor might suggest over-the-counter medicines or prescribe medicines like antihistamines or anticholinergics to prevent motion sickness. Note that only antihistamines that cause drowsiness are effective. And both antihistamines and anticholinergics can have side effects, like drowsiness and dry mouth. They shouldn’t be used in children under 2 years of age.
Some people find that sucking on a ginger lolly or wearing an acupressure wrist band help with symptoms. But there’s no strong evidence to suggest that these approaches prevent motion sickness.