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Motion Sickness

Having taken three children on several road trips in Israel, and in this country, I can say with scientific accuracy that one of my thee children is going to vomit on the car ride. Always the same one, my 6.5 year old middle child. No, it doesn’t matter if he is sitting in the middle seat or the window seat, nor does fresh air appear to help him enough to stop the vomiting. I don’t think he would vomit if he had no screens to watch, but repeated attempts to get him to relinquish the screen voluntarily have met with failure (“I won’t vomit, Mommy. I promise I won’t.”).

What causes motion sickness, though? And why are some people more susceptible to it than others? It turns out that when you are traveling in a vehicle, it is hard for your brain to understand what is going on, because mostly you feel like you are stationary (because you are), except the motion of the car triggers inner ear fluids to move, which makes your brain think it is moving. Confusing, I know.

What is the response to these mixed messages? Well, as a protective measure, if the brain can’t figure out what is going on, the response is often to trigger vomiting. This actually helps if you have been poisoned, or the body needs to flush out any kind of toxic chemical, which is why we have evolved to puke as a protective measure. Are you poisoned while you are driving in the car? Unlikely (although not impossible, I guess). But motion sickness is usually a response from your body, just in case you ae poisoned.

Why does looking out the window help? Well, when you look out the window, your brain figures out that you really are moving, which is also why people who are driving are not motion sick nearly as often as passengers. Looking at a screen or a book, on the other hand? Convinces your brain that you are stationary, but because the inner ear fluids don’t agree, it can actually make motion sickness worse.

Why are some people more susceptible to motion sickness? Scientists don’t really know. It appears that some people are naturally more sensitive to the difference between the brain signals (stationary) and the inner ear signals (moving!). Also motion sickness can run in families too, and people can grow out of motion sickness as well, which is why so many more children are car sick compared to adults.

Bottom line: Our family takes vomit bags and extra clothing wherever we go, for all three kids. Which is probably advisable for children of their age in general, to be honest.

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