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Are Motion Sickness Meds Safe for Children?

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 10, 2021

Motion sickness is that increasingly queasy feeling you get on a plane, boat, or car. It arrives unexpectedly, and always at an inconvenient time. Many parents have experienced a trip with a child who has motion sickness. It puts a damper on fun activities like cruises, carnival rides, or road trips. 

Stopping the activity might seem like the best solution, but that isn't always an option. Over-the-counter and prescription medications are available for motion sickness, but are these safe for children? 

Learn the causes of motion sickness, effective treatments for your kids, and ways to prevent it. 

What Causes Motion Sickness?

The root cause of motion sickness is not completely understood. When your child's brain misunderstands their body’s position in space, this activates the protective measures that cause nausea and vomiting. 

Your brain relies on something called the vestibular system to understand where your body is and how to react. The vestibular system sends information from your ears and eyes to help your brain understand what position you are in, and whether you are moving or remaining in one place.

If your child's ears signal that they are moving, but their eyes see that they are still (or vice versa), their brain mixes these signals up and gets confused. Their brain is unsure about their body’s movement through space. It then reacts to try and correct this issue. 

What Are the Symptoms of Motion Sickness?

Symptoms of motion sickness usually vary by individual. Many occur consistently, including: 

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Pale, clammy skin
  • Cold sweats
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Who Gets Motion Sickness?

Females experience motion sickness more often than males. Pregnancy and certain medications increase a woman's chance of motion sickness. The reasons for this are not completely understood.

Children between the ages of 2 and 12 are more likely to experience motion sickness. This is likely because their sensory systems have not fully developed, and are more prone to mixing signals up. 

If your child is younger than 2 years, they may experience motion sickness but be unable to express how they feel. This is based on parent reports of children who are “fussy” on long trips. If you experience motion sickness, it increases the chances that your child will experience it. 

If your young children have motion sickness, they may have periodic headaches at a later age. Doctors think that there may be some association between these two conditions.

How Can Motion Sickness Be Treated?

Fortunately, there are a variety of treatments available for motion sickness, including both home remedies and medications. Some of the more commonly recommended home remedies are:

  • Stop the activity: If it is possible, stopping the activity and allowing your child to walk around can short-circuit the building feeling of nausea before it becomes overwhelming.
  • Ginger: As an extract or in ginger ale, ginger helps relieve nausea.  Check with your doctor for appropriate dosage using ginger extract. 
  • Aromatherapy: Certain scents have been shown to relieve nausea.
  • Acupressure: Some children find an acupressure wristband to be a good source of relief for motion sickness
  • Change focus: As soon as queasiness begins, have your child focus on the horizon or close their eyes.  Don't let them look down at a book or digital device as this increases dizziness. 
  • Lie down or change position: This can increase their sense of stability and help reduce the effect of "mixed signals" their brain receives
  • Try a snack: A small snack of crackers and a cold drink may settle their stomach.  Be sure to avoid fatty or spicy snacks that can increase stomach discomfort.

Continued

OTC Motion Sickness Medications. A variety of over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications are available if simple home remedies do not help. Two OTC medications that are commonly available include:

  • Dimenhydrinate: This antihistamine is an effective treatment for motion sickness, but should not be given to children 2 or younger.
  • Diphenhydramine: This antihistamine is effective in relieving nausea and dizziness.

Both of these medications have side effects, including drowsiness, so be aware that your child may arrive at your destination feeling groggy.  It is advisable to check with your doctor before giving any new medication to your child.

All of the above treatments may also be used as a preventative measure to avoid motion sickness. If you find that one of them relieves your child's symptoms, consider introducing it before leaving on your trip.  You may even find that your kid's motion sickness is avoidable.  

Prescription Medications. - If your child's symptoms are severe, you might want to discuss a prescription medication with your pediatrician. Some of the commonly prescribed medications are:

  • Ondansetron
  • Scopolamine
  • Metoclopramide

These medications are only available by prescription and may not be appropriate for younger children.  If your child's motion sickness symptoms are severe or last longer than a few hours after you have arrived at your destination, contact your doctor.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:  

American Academy of Pediatrics: “Car Sickness.”

Baystate Health: “DON'T LET MOTION SICKNESS RUIN YOUR TRAVELS THIS SUMMER.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Motion Sickness.”

Children’s MD: “Traveling Without Vomit: How to treat motion sickness in kids.”

Cleveland Clinic: "Motion Sickness."

Kaiser Permanente: “Motion Sickness in Children: Care Instructions.”

Seattle Children’s: “On Motion Sickness.”

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