Most of us have experienced the nightmare that is kids vomiting in the car. Car sickness is a common pediatric problem, and it can leave both children and their parents in tears. While it may not be entirely avoidable, there are ways to make it easier.

As a pediatric nurse, I have dealt with a lot of vomit. Understanding the cause of kid’s carsickness can help to prevent it. In kids carsickness survival, we’ll discuss the causes of car sickness, how to prevent it, and what to do when your child gets sick in the car.

What causes kid’s carsickness?

Car sickness is caused by a sensory conflict between our inner ear and eyes. Our sense of balance is controlled by input from our inner ear, eyes, nerves, and muscles. When we are in a moving vehicle, our inner ear senses motion, but our eyes and other parts of the body do not. These conflicting signals can lead to feelings of nausea and vomiting.

Who is more susceptible to car sickness?

  • Children aged 2–12 years
  • Kids on certain medications

Preventing kid’s carsickness

Prevention is key when it comes to car sickness. If there’s any chance you can prevent a vomiting episode, do everything you can. Here are some tips to give you a fighting chance.

  1. Snack choices: Stick with light, bland options, and avoid large meals, spicy foods, foods with strong smells, and high sugar snacks.
  2. Seating arrangements: Place the child in the middle of the car, if possible. Avoid having them sit in the very back.
  3. Entertainment options: Instead of screens and books, try listening to audiobooks or music.

Kids Carsickness Survival: What to do when your child starts to get sick:

Sometimes, despite all your preparations, kids get sick. If you suspect that your child is starting to feel ill, watch for the following symptoms:

  • Sweating
  • Flushing
  • Feeling overheated
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Burping
  • Irritability

If your child is carsick, here’s what to do:

  1. Crack open a window or turn up the AC.
  2. Pass a barf receptacle to your child. You can use a garbage bag, a plastic grocery sack, or purchase barf bags.
  3. Have other kids put away their snacks.
  4. Instruct your child to look directly ahead of them or have them close their eyes.
  5. Have your child suck on a hard candy, such as peppermint or ginger candy. (Avoid hard candy in younger children as it could be a choking hazard)
  6. Pull over as soon as possible.

Remember, the best immediate remedy for carsickness is to stop the motion!

Unfortunately, sometimes despite all of our best efforts, barf happens. Because some things are out of our control, it is crucial to be prepared for the unholy mess that is vomit all over your child and the car.

Items you should have in the car in case your child vomits

  • Barf bag of your choice
  • Garbage sacks 
  • Wipes
  • Spare clothing 
  • Nontoxic air freshener
  • Paper towels 
  • Disposable gloves  
  • White vinegar water solution mix 1 part white vinegar to 2 parts water.

Make sure your car sickness supplies are easily accessible and not buried under a ton of stuff! 

What to do if your kid vomits in the car

  1. Don’t panic. Stay calm and reassure your child.
  2. Pull over in a safe place.
  3. Clean and comfort your child first. Remove their dirty clothing and use wet wipes or bath wipes to clean their skin. Help them into some fresh clothing and have them lie down and relax.
  4. If you have other children, check in with them and how they are feeling.
  5. Grab your cleaning supplies and put on disposable gloves.

How to clean your car when your child vomits everywhere

  1. Grab your cleaning supplies and put on disposable gloves. (Gloves can help with the “ick” factor. If you are really sensitive to smells, it can be helpful to put on a mask)
  1. Start by using paper towels to absorb and remove the chunky bits of vomit. It may be helpful to have someone else hold open a garbage sack for you while you do it.  
  1. Use your wet wipes to wipe off the upholstery. 
  1. Spray your pre-made vinegar solution on the affected areas and gently scrub.
  1. Open all of the windows and doors to let the car air out. 
  1. Use a natural air fresher to help the car smell better.

How to remove stubborn vomit smell from your car

If the smell of vomit continues to linger, it’s time to use some baking soda. Baking soda is a natural deodorizer that does a great job at absorbing tough to get rid of smells.

  1. Mix baking soda with water in a 1:1 ratio.
  2. Use a cloth to rub the solution into the upholstery.
  3. Leave for 1 hour
  4. Wipe everything up with a clean damp cloth.
  5. Vacuum remaining baking powder if needed.

Motion sickness medicine for kids

Over the counter medications

The two most common medications to help children with car sickness are Benadryl and Dramamine. If you are unsure if either of these medicines are right for your child, contact your pediatrician and consult with them about it. 

Benadryl and Dramamine both have side effects such as drowsiness. They also both work best if given before a child is nauseated. For optimal effect, give 30 minutes prior to beginning your drive. 

Motion sickness in toddlers under 2 medicine consideraations:

Do not use Benadryl in children under the age of 2

Prescription Medication

If your child has a history of car sicknesses and you find that Benadryl or Dramamine are not working, you may want to ask your pediatrician about a medicine called Zofran. Your child’s doctor can help you decide if this is a good option for your situation. 

Natural supplements

Ginger has an evidence based track record for helping with nausea. There are also travel sickness lollipops that older children can try. Check with your doctor before giving supplements and make sure they are approved for use in children. At the very least, you could try some sips of ginger ale or nibbles of organic ginger snaps.  

Final Suggestions

If your child says they don’t feel well while you are driving, don’t ignore them! You will regret not taking the time to pull over and address their concerns. Car sickness in children can be a challenge for parents and kids alike. However, with the right preparation and understanding of the causes, it can be easier to manage. Use the tips above to prevent car sickness and to deal with it if it does happen. With a little planning and the right supplies, you can make sure that everyone arrives at their destination feeling happy and healthy.

For more information about kids and car safety check out my articles on kids and hot cars and how to change your mindset on long car rides with kids.

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