motion sickness in kids

Chronic Illness • Aug 24, 2015

Traveling Without Vomit: How to treat motion sickness in kids

Nothing makes travel miserable like a vomiting child, but the good news is that even the worst motion sickness is treatable. If your child is car sick, air sick, or sea sick, the right drugs combined with tried-and-true home remedies can stop the nauseated misery and help your whole family enjoy travel together.

I wish I had started treating motion sickness sooner. I don’t know what took me so long.  For years my whole family struggled with nausea and my toddlers would vomit in the mini-van, on the boat, and in the plane. Now we all feel better. When it comes to motion sickness, don’t tough it out — treat it. 

There are many approaches for treating motion sickness in children (and yes, these tricks work for adults, too):

Over the counter medications

  • Dramamine, also known as Dimenhydrinate, is available over-the-counter for adults and children over age 2. The dose is 1–1.5 mg/kg per dose, or read the package label.
  • Benadryl, also known as Diphenhydramine, can also be effective for motion sickness.  Here is a weight-based dosing chart.

Prescription medications

  • Zofran is a prescription medication for severe nausea. Talk to your pediatrician about whether Zofran might be right for your child.

Natural treatments

  • Ginger: There is ample research that shows that ginger is an effective treatment for motion sickness. Ginger seems to work by slowing the movements of the muscle walls of the stomach. The right dose of ginger for motion sickness is unclear, especially for children. The University of Maryland Medical Center suggests an adult dose of 250 mg of a standardized extract three times daily, or as needed. This dose is only a guideline, and children may require less. Ask your pediatrician whether this is an appropriate amount for you or your child.
  • Aromatherapy: Scents such as mint or lavender may be effective as anti-nausea agents. For more on essential oils and the research basis of their efficacy, see the article here.
  • Acupressure: Sea-Bands and other brands of acupressure wrist bands are inexpensive and low-risk treatments for motion sickness. Research on the efficacy of acupressure interventions for preventing motion sickness does not show clear benefit — some people find marked relief with acupressure, others little or none. So, if it’s working for you or your child, go for it.

Tried-and-True Home Remedies

  • As soon as your child starts to feel sick, have him close his eyes, or find a spot far in the distance to focus on, rather than looking at things that are close by.
  • Deep breathing can bring fast relief to motion sickness. Singing is a great way to get your child to breathe deeply. Try singing a song with your child. At the very least it will take her mind off the nausea.
  • If the motion sickness persists, have your child lie down and try putting a cool cloth over his head.
  • Avoid reading or using digital devices. If you do use digital devices, videos are a much better option than anything that involves reading.
  • Eat light, healthy, non-greasy meals while traveling.

Consider taking dramamine or benadryl about an hour before you leave, and then again every 6 hours while traveling, especially if you have a child who has a history of motion sickness or if you are on a medication known to cause nausea. Women who are menstruating or on their period are also at increased risk of motion sickness.

Teach your child to recognize the signs of motion sickness and encourage her to tell you as soon as they start. Toddlers as young as 2 or 3 will tell you when they feel sick. It helps to talk about it ahead of time and encourage your children to tell you as soon as they feel sick.

Avoid medications that cause or worsen motion sickness, if possible. Many medications as associated with nausea, including:

Antibiotics Azithromycin, metronidazole, erythromycin, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole
Antiparasitics chloroquine, mefloquine
Estrogens Oral contraceptives, estradiol
Pain medications Ibuprofen, codeine, morphine, oxycodone
Antidepressants Fluoxetine, sertraline

Still sick? Occasionally a child’s vomiting may be due to a viral illness, food poisoning, or the “stomach flu.” Dr. Lee has great tips to handle other causes of vomiting here.

Every year I see all kinds of kids in the Emergency Room who are traveling and far from home. Here are 5 tips to avoid the ER during your vacation. And don’t forget to pack your ultimate family first aid kit.


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