Car sickness and how to cope with it on long journeys

car sickness
Car sickness can turn a dream holiday into a nightmare (Picture iStock/imgorthand)

It’s coming up for holiday time but if there’s one thing that can spoil a long journey for all concerned, it’s car sickness. No one’s quite sure why some people feel it and others don’t. But that won’t be much consolation to whoever the victim is; whoever has to keep pulling over for the sufferer to redecorate the roadside; or other passengers who have their holiday delayed. Here we look at what car sickness is and what you can do about it.

What is car sickness

More correctly it should be called motion sickness. It’s the same thing that makes some people feel sea sick or queasy in an aeroplane. As you are sitting still, your body is sending the message to your brain that you are stationary. However, at the same time, you’re being bounced up and down and your eyes and inner ear that control balance are telling your brain that you’re on the move. The result is your brain gets mixed messages, you might come out in a cold sweat, get a headache, feel nauseous and in extreme cases, vomit.

Before the journey

You’ve prepared you car for the long journey ahead. Now it’s time to prepare your passengers. Don’t have a heavy meal before setting off. And if you must eat, don’t have rich, spicy or greasy food. If whoever suffers has to eat, give them something really bland such a plain crackers and some water.

In-car during the journey

If possible, the sufferer should sit in the front. This is because the ride is at its smoothest here. In addition, you have the best view out and the next piece of advice is to look straight ahead at a fixed point such as the horizon or a distant motorway bridge.

If whoever suffers has to sit in the back, try to encourage them to look ahead rather than out of the side window which will exacerbate the feeling of nausea.

car sickness
You probably don’t want to be breaking up your journey like this (Picture iStock/Djedzura)

Make sure that the car’s cabin isn’t too stuffy and if possible, open the window to let fresh air in. The NHS advises sufferers to close their eyes and concentrate on their breathing. Taking long deep breaths is much better than shallow breathing. Trying to go to sleep is another way to lessen the symptoms as it helps to reset the inner ear.

If children suffer, don’t give them screens, books or activities that require looking down. This sends messages of stillness to the brain from the eyes yet the body can still detect motion. Instead, try to distract kids by talking, listening to music or singing songs.

Break up the journey

Sufferers may feel nauseous but as soon as they get out of the car and walk around in the fresh air, their brain will reset and the feeling of nausea will go away. Eating ginger, perhaps in biscuit form, is also thought to help settle the stomach. And eating peppermint or drinking soda water help too.

Try some medication

You can buy various car sickness medication from pharmacies. These include soluble tablets, some of which suggest you take them the night before travel and some of which cause drowsiness. You can also buy wrist bands. These go round each wrist and there’s a button which exerts gentle force on the acupressure points that supposedly relieve nausea. There’s no guarantee any treatment will physically work but they might have a psychological effect.

Who suffers from it?

Motion sickness is a mysterious beast. Some people suffer badly; others not at all. What researchers have found is that children aged between two and 12 are likely to fall victim, as are pregnant women and women who get migraines.

car sickness
Kids aged between two and 12 are most likely to suffer motion sickness (Picture iStock/Romrodinka)

And if the worst happens…

If you know one of the kids suffers from car sickness, it’ll help with your peace of mind to have some plastic sick bags in the car. More importantly, anyone who’s been sick is in danger of suffering from dehydration. Make sure you’ve got plenty of water with you and for people who’re very sick, you can buy sachets of electrolytes that rebalance the body’s salts.

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