Many a families' summer vacations mean piling into the car and heading towards the highway. At times these trips are marred by frequent nausea and vomiting. This means some passengers have a bout of car sickness or motion sickness.
Carsickness, a variant of motion sickness, happens when the eyes, inner ears and joints get conflicting clues about how fast and in what direction the body is moving, says Chamberlain, a clinical instructor at Lucille Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif.
The messages from the inner ear (balance department) conflict with the messages from the eye (vision department) causing the brain to take some measures to remove the conflict. As a natural defense against poisoning, the brain will listen to the inner ear over the eyes because vision problems are an early indication of poisoning.
In other words, if your eyes and ears are telling your brain two different things the brain will believe the ear and assume you have been poisoned and begin to make you feel sick until you vomit. Once you vomit the brain will assume you have removed the poison from your body (thats why you feel pretty good just after a vomit session) and resume normal operation. If you are in a car and are looking out the side window your eyes will continue to send a different message to your brain and soon you will begin to feel sick again.
Typical symptoms of carsickness are nausea, paleness, cold sweats and vomiting. Children due to immature nervous system and secondly due to the fact that their vision of the road in front is poor are especially susceptible. Usually the child will first complain that she feels queasy-- allowing some time to fix the situation before actual vomiting starts.
Up to half get carsick at some time, and the condition peaks between ages 2 and 12, says the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those prone to migraines appear particularly susceptible, says Andrew Racine, director of general pediatrics at Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York.
Carsickness is not a major illness. But it can cause a lot of distraction to the driver. It can also cause a lot of unhappiness to fellow passengers.
Pediatricians say that there are ways to prevent car sickness.
When you sit in the back seat you should attempt to look out the front windscreen if you can and you will find the motion sickness is reduced dramatically. Front seat passengers rarely get car sick because they look out the windscreen where there is little difference between what the eyes see and the ears interpret as there is little movement of the objects apart from coming towards you. Here the eyes and the inner ears to say the same thing so the brain has no need to make you feel sick.
Make frequent stops. Many children need to get out and walk around, both to burn energy and to prevent motion sickness. So stop and see a sight or two — or at least take bathroom breaks. If a child already has vomited, you'll need to take a longer break to give her time to recover.
Offer light snacks and drinks. Empty stomachs or those full of greasy fast food can cause trouble. So pack some water, crackers, fruit and other healthy fare and let kids nibble.
Urge sensitive kids to keep their eyes on the horizon. Thanks to booster seats and higher-profile vehicles, many can get a good view — something that can minimize queasiness. Avoid rear-facing seats (except for infant car seats) and give the most sensitive children middle-row rather than way-back seats in minivans, station wagons and SUVs.
Ban books, DVD players and handheld video games. While such distractions may be welcome on long trips, the act of focusing on something inside the car can intensify the nauseating sense of disconnection from the movement outside. Better bets: listening to music or books on tape — or engaging in old-fashioned conversation, songs and verbal games.
Open a window. A breeze can help keep the brain oriented to the outside world.
Consider traveling at night and encouraging children to sleep.
Also, no one should be smoking in a vehicle with kids inside and avoid strong-smelling foods or snacks.
The less braking and swaying the better and a suspension system in poor shape can make things worse.
Over-the-counter drugs are available for motion sickness, as are some alternative-medicine remedies. Remember that alternative medicines can be as potent as drugs. It's best to be cautious and always seek a medical opinion before medicating a child. To be effective against motion sickness, most drugs need to be taken before the trip starts.
Children will not always tell you when they are feeling sick but a good indicator is when they go quiet. They may also go quiet because they want to have a think but drowsiness is often an early stage of motion sickness.
Remember: it's in everyone's interests to stop the car before the child actually gets sick!