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Travel Sickness

By Bjarne Lühr Hansen PhD, MD and Philipp Skafte-Holm MD, Mentor Institute

Most children have experienced carsickness, seasickness or airsickness. The discomforts from travel sickness diminish as the child grows older. Nausea and vomiting are typical symptoms of travel sickness. Certain remedies can soothe or hinder travel sickness from arising.

Travel sickness is a catch-all for seasickness, carsickness and airsickness. The cause, the discomforts and the treatment are the same no matter what kind of transport you are using (car, ship or plane).

Most children have, to a lesser or greater degree, experienced travel sickness. The cause of travel sickness is that the child is exposed to movements that the brain is not used to. The brain has not yet learned to set the movements of the body against what the child sees. The balance centre in the brain must first get to know the new movements. Until it does, the brain sends out signals which lead to travel sickness. This is also why the discomforts from travel sickness diminish, as the child grows older. For this reason most children can be cured from travel sickness.

There is a big difference between how individual children experience travel sickness. Some children easily get sick from travelling while others never experience it. It is unknown why some children get sick from travel more than others.

The typical symptom of travel sickness with the smallest children is vomiting. The smallest children do not know what nausea is and instead complains about stomach pains. With bigger children, travel sickness begins with sleepiness and headaches. The face turns pale and then the nausea and vomiting begin. After the child has vomited it gets a little better but only for a short while until it starts vomiting again. The symptoms of travel sickness can last for a short or a long period after the travel has ended. In the case of seasickness, the symptoms can last for several hours after the passage has ended.

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There are two types of medication for travel sickness. Antihistamines exist as tablets or a mixture and can be bought over the counter. Scopolamine exists as a band-aid to be placed behind the ear. You need a prescription to get this band-aid. It is important to be clear about how long the travel lasts because there is a difference in how long the medication works. If the child is going sailing for several days or you are driving to Spain, scopolamine, which lasts for three days, is recommended. However, the band-aid can only be recommended for children more than ten years old. Antihistamines should be used for smaller children or shorter travels. All the remedies available are mildly sedative. It is important to minister the medication to the child well in advance before the drive, cruise or flight.

What can you do?

If the child is easily struck with travel sickness you can:

  • Make sure the child can see out of the windows in the car
  • Place bigger children on the front seat where the view is better
  • Tell the child to stare at the horizon
  • Prevent the child from reading or drawing
  • Avoid smoking and eating in the car
  • Make sure the air is as fresh as possible
  • Try to make the child sleep

Contact the doctor tomorrow

If you know your child usually struck has travel sickness when going on a longer travel. Your doctor may possibly make a prescription for a scopolamine band-aid.

Contact the doctor immediately

This is never necessary.