Some people, but especially children from the age of two to 12, which is when it tends to disappear, experience dizziness and even vomiting when traveling by train, boat or car. This can turn a pleasant and enjoyable boat ride or expected vacation trip into a bad experience in the form of nausea, vomiting, dizziness, even headache and sweating. It is a problem that receives the medical term motion sickness and seems to be related to a lack of maturation of the neuronal system that integrates balance; hence it usually improves with age.
Motion sickness, an imbalance between what we see and what we feel
The problem of dizziness when we travel is not so much in the car —or in the boat or the train— but in the brain’s ability to understand a message it receives and what it really detects.
We get dizzy when there is a conflict between our senses. In the words of Dr. José Miguel Villacampa, head of the Otorhinolaryngology Service of the Jimenez Diaz Foundation, we get dizzy because a “sensor conflict” occurs. According to the expert, we have three types of sensors: proprioceptiveswhich are the ones that tell the child that he is not moving —he is actually sitting—; the ear —the intern helps to control the sense of balance—, which is acting and tells the child that it is moving; and, lastly, the visualswhich sends information to the child depending on whether he looks inside the car —he will believe that it is not moving— or outside the car —he will realize that it is moving—.
If the child looks down and is reading or looking at a screen, the part of the ear that controls balance and movement is telling him that he is moving, but the message from the eyes tells him that he is still looking at a book. When he is sitting in a car without looking out the window, his inner ears perceive movement, but his eyes have a static view.
Therefore, the symptoms of motion sickness appear when there is a mismatch between the information sent to the brain from the eyes, the inner ear and the sensory nerves, therefore, the central nervous system receives conflicting messages from the sensory systems.
The problem increases even more if the car makes more angular accelerations, that is, we are on a curvy road or aggressive driving is carried out. In this case, “the child’s ear perceives more movement,” admits Villacampa, which increases the risk of dizziness. The possibility of a child becoming dizzy is also higher if other factors are added, such as being very hot or having a full stomach.
In most cases, once the movement stops, so does the dizziness, little by little the child feels better. According to a comprehensive international survey carried out in 2020 on the incidence and modulating factors of dizziness in several countries, there could also be a genetic component in dizziness, which tells us that, if the parents suffered from dizziness as children, it is more likely that the children also suffer from it. suffer.
But there is good news: dizziness would decrease with age since it is children aged 6 to 12 who tend to suffer more dizziness, with a peak between 9 and 10 years, according to a study published in Journal of Neurology.
Strategies to prevent motion sickness
Preventing dizziness from becoming the protagonists of our trip must start before they appear. We can try to reduce the effects of motion sickness by trying to make the information received by the nervous system as consistent as possible. According to one revision carried out on several studies of motion sickness, in most cases this motion sickness is can be prevented with behavioral and environmental modifications —minimization of movement stimuli and habituation—.
Dr. Villacampa highlights three easy ways to do it. The first is that “the child has the vision in the landscape so that he realizes that she is moving”. Reduce sensory input and encourage the child to look at things outside the car instead of concentrating on a book or screen. Napping in the car can also help reduce motion sickness.
Another simple but effective step is that the temperature inside the car is not too high because the hotter it is, the greater the risk of dizziness. And finally, Villacampa advises avoid traveling with a stomach that is too full and heavy, fatty or sugary foods because this would only make the situation worse. Eating small portions of snacks before and during the trip is a good preventive measure.
These three steps can be used for other means of transportation such as the boat —in this case, if we can go outside better, with our eyes fixed on a fixed point on the horizon— or the train, in which the most important thing “is to go in the direction of the march because in the opposite direction it is easier for the child to get dizzy”, affirms the doctor.