Preventing Motion Sickness

Travel Health Basics

A boy playing on the deck of a cruise ship.
Most kids don't get seasick on big cruise ships. Photo by Getty Images

Although we usually think of motion sickness as something that happens when riding on a boat or getting seasick, children can get motion sickness in a car, airplane, rollercoaster, etc. or even watching a fast-paced movie, especially if it is 3-D.

Symptoms of Motion Sickness

The symptoms of motion sickness usually include:

  • dizziness
  • nausea and vomiting
  • fatigue
  • sweating

Parents might also notice that their child with motion sickness will appear pale.

Preventing Motion Sickness

Parents commonly call their pediatrician before a family vacation, especially if involves a cruise or long car ride, looking for medications to help control or prevent motion sickness. Mostly they are looking for a prescription for the scopolamine patches that adults commonly use. Unfortunately, these motion sickness patches are not recommended for use in children.

Instead, children over age two years can usually take Dramamine, an over-the-counter antihistamine that can help to prevent the symptoms of motion sickness. Available as a chewable tablet, Dramamine is especially convenient for younger children who can't yet swallow pills. To avoid double-dosing your child, do avoid giving your child other antihistamines at the same time as you give Dramamine, which includes most allergy medicines, including Allegra, Claritin, and Zyrtec. It is also important to watch for the most common side effect of Dramamine, which is drowsiness.

Benadryl is another antihistamine that may help with motion sickness.

Other non-proven treatments for motion sickness should likely be avoided, including acupressure wristbands, electric or magnetic wristbands, and essential oils, etc.

Motion Sickness During Short Car Rides

Although motion sickness on cruise ships and during long car rides doesn't surprise most parents, most don't expect their kids to get sick on a short car ride.

This is a common problem, though.

Motion sickness can affect young children even during very short car rides, like to the store or across town. In this case, you may have to try a few different things to see what works, but it may help to:

  • avoid letting your child read, watch movies, or play video games in the car (avoid too much sensory input)
  • have her listen to music or audio books, etc. (keep your child distracted)
  • avoid big meals right before traveling
  • keep your child well hydrated
  • encourage her to look at things outside the car, in the distance

If car sickness continues to be a routine problem for your child, an evaluation by a Pediatric Neurologist might be helpful.

Motion Sickness and Migraines

Many experts believe that motion sickness and migraine headaches may be linked, so if migraines run in the family, even if your child hasn't started getting them yet, she may be at risk for motion sickness.

Or if your child already has migraines, then it would be more likely that she would also suffer from motion sickness.


Brey RL. Both migraine and motion sickness may be due to low brain levels of serotonin. Neurology - 23-AUG-2005; 65(4): E9-10

Casselbrant ML. Balance disorders in children. Neurol Clin - 01-AUG-2005; 23(3): 807-29, vii

Keystone: Travel Medicine, 1st ed., Copyright © 2004 Mosby, An Imprint of Elsevier

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