Life Motoring

Thursday 25 April 2019

How to beat travel sickness in children and adults in the holiday season

Our RSA expert relives the horror and passes on some useful advice for families on the move

Anyone can get motion sickness, although children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable. Stock photo: Deposit photos
Anyone can get motion sickness, although children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable. Stock photo: Deposit photos

Motion sickness is no joke. Just ask my kids. The words came from my 12-year-old son in the back seat of the car: "Dad, I don't feel well".

I ask: "Do you think you'll make it to granny's?"

"No. I think I'm going to be sick."

I tell him I'll pull in as soon as I can find a safe spot and to grab the plastic bag from the holder in the back of the seat in front of him.

The bag is there because being sick on the 50km trip to his granny's happens regularly. His sister suffers from motion sickness too.

On regular trips I have all the possible pull-in spots committed to memory. When we have a new route to travel I plot pull-in spots in case they get sick.

A particularly memorable family moment was driving through the scenic Connor Pass in Kerry a few years ago. It was a beautiful sunny day. I know the views of the Connor Pass from the R560 are breathtaking because more than 80pc of tourists who rated it on TripAdvisor said so. The photographs of the pass online are truly spectacular too. But when I was driving though it on a family holiday my son was throwing up in the back seat.

I had to pull over, get out and go for a little walk with him. When he felt better we continued the journey to Dingle with him sitting in the front seat. Thank god Fungi the 'dolafint' (as my son called him at the time) put on a display worthy of the Red Arrows when we went on the Dingle harbour boat trip, because it distracted him enough not to get motion sickness on the boat too.

Driving on motorways or dual carriageways is not too bad but it's the secondary or rural roads that are the killers. All those bends really set off the motion sickness. It wasn't off the ground my kids picked it. I remember my own dad having to do the same for me. And motion sickness is no joke. The one and only time I have ever truly wanted to die was on a return leg of a ferry crossing from France. I was so seasick I imagined ways that could get me airlifted off the ship.

So why do people get motion sickness and can it be prevented? Will sitting on a newspaper (as I was told by a relative) help in any way and are medicines a help? Or are they just placebos?

For answers I contacted the National Programme Office for Traffic Medicine, which was set up as a joint initiative between the RSA and the Royal College of Physicians.

Balance is a function of multiple sensory inputs from the five balance organs in each ear, plus information from the muscles, joints and vision.

Motion sickness occurs when the movement you see with your eyes is different from what your inner ear senses. Reading while travelling in the back seat of a car is a classic cause of motion sickness - the book tells your eyes that you're still, but your balance organs read motion.

Anyone can get motion sickness, although children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable. It can cause dizziness, nausea and vomiting, and can make travelling most unpleasant.

  • Sitting in the front seat or looking forward out the window is one way to prevent getting nauseous.
  • Similarly, don't look down at a book, phone, or tablet when you're on a moving vehicle. Look at the world moving around you.
  • However, sometimes stimulating your other senses can distract you from the motion and the kids playing on the tablet might actually help from time to time. But not always in my experience.
  • There are some reports that ginger or peppermint are effective at reducing nausea, so you could try a peppermint sweet or chewing gum.
  • Medicines can be used to prevent or treat motion sickness, although many of them have the unwanted side-effect of making you sleepy. Talk to your doctor about what is best for you if you think you need medicine for motion sickness.

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