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How to Cure Motion Sickness when you're Traveling with Kids

Once, my parents took saix of us kids on an ocean voyage only to run into the tail end of a hurricane whipping across the Northern Atlantic. At first, it was fun. The winds blew us into scarecrow positions. The waves splattered over the decks. My brother showed us how to slide across them by putting on raincoats, sitting down, and pushing off with our feet against the sides of the boat. But as the wind became stronger and the waves higher, and the boat pitched and rolled, we ceased any movements of our own. By nightfall, we were groaning down in our bunks-laid low by those awful nauseous feelings of motion sickness one never forgets.

No one really knows why some kids suffer from motion sickness and others don't. It tends to run in families; kids who suffer from migraines are good candidates. Ship movement seems worse than that of a car or plane; up to 25 percent of ship passengers suffer from seasickness within two to three days on the ocean.

It shows up by the age of two and often peters out by the time a child turns 12. Some will only feel sick in the roughest of seas; others can feel sick when riding an elephant at the zoo. What is known about the affliction is that it happens when the brain receives conflicting messages. The inner ears which control balance and equilibrium say motion but the eyes don't record it. That's why reading head down in a car sets it off so easily - the child feels but doesn't see the motion.

For kids and parents planning a long car trip or a Caribbean cruise, here are ways to prevent it from happening:

Do place the child where's there is the least disturbance-over the wing on an airplane, midship on a boat ride, and, especially for a car journey, in the front seat. When sufferers are able to look forward out towards the horizon, there's less chance of becoming ill. Similarly, the best spot for a queasy sailor is up on deck looking out at sea. The idea is to see the same motion that the body and inner ears feel.

Don't feed kids a greasy burger and fries before setting out. Light, non-greasy, easily digestible snacks such as sandwiches, crackers, and vegetables offer less chance for sickness. Some kids feel best when travelling on an empty stomach; forcing them to eat may end in disaster.

Do keep the child drinking, however. There was a good reason for serving cups of beef tea on deck before the ships developed good stabilizers. Ginger ale can help (ginger has been used for centuries as a remedy for unsettled stomachs) but water is good too.

Don't expose a sick child to fumes, be they perfume, car exhaust, or cigarette smoke. Even a whiff can bring on a crisis.

Do use a car seat whenever possible. It helps keep the head still and the eyes focussed on a fixed spot.

Don't let the child read or look at books for a second, even if it's to pinpoint a place on the map. Do use music and story tapes in the car; eyes closed and head still is the best position to be in, even for afflicted adults.

Do make frequent stops and keep the window open, even in winter if you can stand it. Motion sickness does not usually develop during the first 30 minutes of a journey; the fresh air may prevent it from happening.

Motion sickness is easier to prevent than to cure but don't ever let a child use a scopolamine patch behind the ear. The best preventative is Children's Gravol, given at least one hour before departure and available in drops for infants or chewable cherry-flavored tablets, easy-to-swallow Filmcote tablets, liquid form or suppositories for kids. Be warned, however, that Gravol can have the undesired opposite effect of making a wrangy kid even more hyper.

Another alternative is Sea-Bands, an elastic bracelet which works against seasickness with an acupressure point on the wrist. Although a Condé Nast Traveller survey in 1991 reported that many found them ineffective, kids who sail with the Balmy Beach Club in Toronto seem to find them helpful.

Do come prepared with a bucket, plastic bags, cold cloths, and changes of clothes for both kids and parents. A toddler once threw up on me during a bumpy air ride. I spent the flight regretting I had clean clothes for him but not for me.

Do remember that the incidence of motion sickness usually lessens after the age of 12 and rarely occurs after the age of 50. And if you do have sufferers in the family, they're in good company. Apparently Lord Nelson, Charles Darwin, Sir John Franklin, and Lawrence of Arabia were all victims of motion sickness.





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