Car sickness: What can you do about it?

Summer vacation usually means packing up the car and heading out on the open road. But for many families, particularly those with children, car sickness makes riding in a car for hours on end no fun at all! So, what causes it? And what, if anything, can you do about it?

Car sickness is when someone gets dizzy and/or nauseated while riding in the car. You can also get ‘motion’ sickness from boats, trains, airplanes, even amusement park rides - but for now we’ll stick with cars.

Motion sickness is basically the result of a conflict between the eye and the ear. The inner ear detects that the car is moving, but the eye - focused on the inside of the car - doesn’t. The brain gets confused by these conflicting signals and the result is nausea. It can start with a stomach ache and a feeling of queasiness, then progress to sweating, vomiting and in rare cases panic and confusion. ¹

It’s surprising just how many people suffer from car sickness. Adults, children and pets can all experience it. However, according to Health Canada, by far the largest group is children between the ages of three and twelve. In fact, it affects a whopping 58% of children! ²

The road to prevention

Because, no one wants to stay home all summer, here are a few ways of preventing car sickness.

  1. Look up and out- It’s best to focus on a point outside the car. For children, play games that encourage them to look outside. An audio book or songs can also help.
  2. Say no to books, DVDs and video games– Again, because the eyes need to focus outside the car, these are a big no no!
  3. Avoid sitting in the back seat- For safety reasons, most children are required to sit in the back, so this only works for adults. If you own a minivan, have your child sit in the middle row.
  4. Open the window- Fresh air can make someone who is dizzy feel better.
  5. Food watch- It’s best to avoid dairy products and greasy, hard-to-digest food prior to leaving. If you or your child is suddenly queasy, eating dry crackers may help.
  6. Plan to stop- Make sure you stop often to get out of the car and stretch.
  7. Medication- While there is no standard method of preventing car sickness, according to Health Canada, certain medication can be very effective. Please contact your doctor for more information.

And remember, if someone in the car does feel nauseous, it’s best to pull over in a safe location. And, don’t forget to bring a plastic bag - just in case!




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