By Melissa Willette
Thanksgiving and the winter holidays create many of our best family memories. It’s also the time of year when long car rides, cross-country air travel, and large family gatherings disrupt our children’s normal routines, making them more susceptible to sickness and fatigue.
They often overeat, sleep less — especially when staying up late and crossing time zones — and spend fewer hours outdoors where they have a chance to unwind and get some exercise.Taking preventive steps and preparing can help ensure a healthy holiday for your children and your entire family.
A sick child on an airplane or in the back seat of the car can make traveling unpleasant, but there are steps you can take to minimize any symptoms.
Normally, your child’s brain senses movement by getting signals from the inner ear, eyes, muscles, and joints. When there is unnatural repeated movement and those signals don’t match, nausea, dizziness, headaches, and sweating can occur.
Motion sickness of this kind is most likely to occur in youngsters ages 2 to 12.
Prevention starts in advance with your children’s diet. Stick to light meals before and during travel, and avoid greasy, fatty foods.
Smart seating choices can also make a difference. While most children need to sit in a rear seat, make sure they can see the road over or between seats. The center of the back seat or middle row of a minivan offers the best view of the front windshield.
Seats over the wings of a plane and at the front of a train provide the most stability, while the center of a ship at the waterline is the best choice for cruise ship staterooms.
Books and movies are a great way to pass time when traveling, but for children prone to motion sickness, they can trigger nausea very quickly. In this case, music and books on tape are the best choice.
If your child becomes nauseous and you are not able to stop for fresh air, open the windows and have them close their eyes and recline as much as possible. Dry crackers and ginger ale may help settle their stomach.
Over-the-counter and prescription-strength medicines are a good recommendation when your child has exhibited past issues with motion sickness. Pay attention to directions. Dramamine — available in chewable tablets — should be taken 1 hour prior to travel. Prescription patches should be applied behind the ear 4 hours in advance.
Prevent the flu
A bout of the flu passing among family members will put a damp-er on any holiday celebration. According to the Centers for Disease Control, this year could be particularly bad based on flu activity in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere; what happens there is often a predictor for what will occur in North America.
Flu shots, available for children 6 months and older, are available now from your pediatrician, pharmacy, or retail clinic locations. It’s important to get vaccinated as soon as possible because it takes at least two weeks to build up immunity.
The well-stocked travel bag
Preparation and packing prior to any holiday trip should include a few common medicines in the event a family member becomes ill.
Smart choices include a pain reliever and multi-symptom cold medicine for children in liquid or chewable form; a child-appropriate anti diarrheal, especially since changes in travel and water are common triggers; and adhesive strips with antibacterial ointment for cuts and scrapes.
Remember: You can always save a little money by buying store-brand medications.
When you arrive at your destination
When parents ask me what they can do to help keep their children healthy during holiday travel, I encourage them to build in some “healthy” activity as a way of bonding with other family members.
If it’s not too cold, a morning bike ride, neighborhood walk, or hike at a nearby park are great for all generations. For large families, a flag football game or soccer match creates some friendly competition and physical activity.
Proper sleep is also critical for children. Be sure to build in nap time and account for any lost hours resulting from plane travel. Restrict time with mobile devices and video games to encourage sleep.
Good nutrition is more important than ever. The holidays are a time for sweets, so a fresh fruit basket is the perfect hostess gift for everyone to enjoy. Giving children smaller portions will help slow them down and prevent overeating.
Lastly, don’t forget about yourself. Grandparents will be happy to see their grandchildren, so build in some mom and dad time and have fun!
Melissa Willette is a mother and family nurse practitioner who works at MinuteClinic inside the CVS Pharmacy store in Raynham.