Driving Away Car Sickness

Pediatric Blogs

During my recent vacation to California, I rode across the Golden Gate Bridge, swerved back and forth down one of the most crooked streets in America (San Francisco’s Lombard Street), and drove several hours to Yosemite National Park and through Napa Valley. Although the sites were spectacular, the motion sickness that accompanied the car travel (also known as car sickness) put a damper on the experience.

My family fared better than I did. The most effective treatment for my car sickness was sitting in the prized location of the front passenger’s seat—a treatment option only available to one occupant at a time and unavailable to children younger than 13 years. Other adults who suffer from car sickness tell me that driving the car themselves—another intervention only available to one adult at a time—prevents the nausea and dizziness.

The summer is a popular travel time, and parents will be asking about ways to “drive away” car sickness. When I need to refresh the advice that I give to travelers, I refer to an article by Kamat et al.1 The article, although written about a decade ago, provides some evidence-based treatments for adults and children to ameliorate motion sickness.1 Pediatricians can discuss both pharmacologic (eg, antihistamines and anticholinergics) and nonpharmacologic treatments with parents and children. I rarely recommend any drugs because of potential side effects—the most common being sedation, which can further dampen a vacation. The American Academy of Pediatrics also provides some practical tips for children, so they can enjoy their travel experiences.2

Here’s a summarized list of practical interventions described in the 2 references1,2:

•Consume ginger root in the form of candy or soda or consume teas that contain various herbs or spices.

•Enforce behavior modifications: practice biofeedback, focus on a stable object, open the window for fresh air, use music and conversation for distraction, wear pressure wrist bands, avoid reading or playing video games.

•Alter diet: eat a small meal a few hours before the ride and avoid certain foods (dairy products, high-caloric foods, or foods high in sodium or protein) and hunger.

•Stop the car and take a break from the movement.

I have no experience with the application of acupuncture or bands, which apply pressure to the wrists, but I have relatives who swear by their effectiveness. One of the more difficult suggestions to enforce is the avoidance of reading or playing video games while riding in the car. These activities help pass the time on long trips, but they do seem to cause or at least exacerbate the nausea and dizziness.

One last practical tip that doesn’t ameliorate car sickness but can save the interior of the vehicle…pack a bucket!