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A parent's guide to holiday travel and staying healthy

Oct 17, 2017 11:55AM

By Amanda Dolega, MSN, FNP

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 in advance can help to ensure a healthy holiday for your children and your entire family.

Motion sickness
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 and fatty foods.

Smart choices in seating can also make a difference.  While most children need to sit in the rear seat of the car, make sure they can see the road over or between seats. The center of the back seat or middle row of a minivan offer the best view of the front windshield.
Seats over the wings of a plane and at the front of the 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 does become nauseous and you are not able to stop for some 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 one hour prior to travel.  Prescription patches, which I often prescribe for my patients at MinuteClinic, should be applied behind the ear four hours in advance.

Prevent the flu
A bout of the flu passing among family members will put a damper on any holiday celebration.  And this year could be a particularly bad year for the virus based on flu activity in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere according to the CDC.  Often what happens there is a predictor for what will occur in North America.

Flu shots, available for children six months and above, are available now from your pediatrician, pharmacies or retail clinic locations.  It’s important to get vaccinated as soon as possible since 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 anti-bacterial ointment for cuts and scrapes.

Remember that you can always save a little money by buying store brand medications.

Tips 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 is great exercise 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 some 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.  The grandparents will be happy to see their grandchildren, so build in some mom and dad time and have fun!

Amanda Dolega is a nurse practitioner at the MinuteClinic inside the CVS Pharmacy store in Lakewood. 

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