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Kick Car Sickness to the Curb

Car sickness is a common problem in young children—but don’t blame it on the car.

It’s actually a form of motion sickness, a broader condition in which movement brings on symptoms such as dizziness and nausea. This problem may occur not only in cars, but also on boats, planes, trains, and amusement park rides.

Why do some kids feel sick more easily than others? The issue may be due to increased sensitivity in part of the inner ear that plays a key role in balance.

Knowing what to watch for

Many people associate motion sickness with throwing up. But in children younger than age 6, the main symptoms are dizziness and wanting to lie down. Other potential symptoms include unsteady walking, nausea, and vomiting.

Taking preventive steps

Young children ages 2 to 12 are especially prone to motion sickness. If it isn’t managed, it can make traveling stressful for everyone. But by planning ahead, you can usually keep it in check. Try these tips:

  • Use anti-motion sickness medicine.Dimenhydrinate (such as Dramamine) is sold in chewable tablets for kids ages 2 and older. It’s available without a prescription. This medicine should be given an hour before traveling, and one dose helps prevent symptoms for about 6 hours.
  • Consider child-sized acupressure wristbands (such as Sea-Bands) for additional help. Putting a band around each of your child’s wrists before beginning your trip may help relieve nausea by stimulating pressure points.
  • Bring the right entertainment along. Looking at a book or device screen may trigger symptoms. Listening to music or an audio story is a better option.

Caring for motion sickness

If symptoms of motion sickness have already begun, offer only sips of water until your child’s tummy settles down. Keep a vomit pan or bag handy, just in case. Encourage rest—your little one may even doze off.

The good news is that motion sickness usually goes away within 4 hours after the motion stops. Contact your child’s healthcare provider if symptoms last for more than 8 hours.

Sickness minus the motion

What if your child feels dizzy or unsteady, and it doesn’t seem linked to movement? Talk with your child’s healthcare provider. This may be a sign of something else, such as vertigo (an abnormal spinning sensation) or other issues with the body’s balance system.

Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, MSN, BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2022
© 2000-2023 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional’s instructions.