Seizures: what to do if your child has one

First of all don’t panic. Don’t assume seizures are a sign of epilepsy –  but do see your doctor immediately after the event.

Seizures can be fairly common in children, and have many causes. Don’t automatically assume the worst and panic if your child has one.

The immediate thought is that he or she may have epilepsy, or that your child has a greater risk of developing epilepsy in the future. Fortunately this is not true.

A seizure occurs when lots of brain cells abnormally fire at the same time. This temporarily disrupts the normal electrical signals to the brain. This excessive and intense electrical activity overwhelms the normal brain functions and results in abnormal behaviour, awareness and body movements.

How epilepsy and seizures relate

The dictionary explanation for epilepsy is a neurological disorder marked by sudden recurrent episodes of sensory disturbance, loss of consciousness, or convulsions, associated with abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Epilepsy doesn’t necessarily refer to a specific disease more to a tendency to have unprovoked and recurrent seizures over time. Possible causes of seizures in children are:

  • Low blood sugar
  • High fever
  • Concussion
  • Adverse effects to prescribed medication.

A seizure that occurs when a child has a high fever is known as a febrile seizure. This kind of seizure is associated with high body temperature alone and doesn’t normally have any underlying health issues. These are most common between the ages of 6 months and 5 years.

Febrile seizures most commonly occur between the ages of 6 months and 5 years Children who suffer febrile seizures very rarely go on to develop epilepsy.

​Are febrile seizures dangerous?

While febrile seizures may be very scary, they are harmless to the child. Febrile seizures do not cause brain damage, nervous system problems, paralysis, disability, or death.

What to do if my child has a febrile seizure?

  • Place her on the floor or bed away from any hard or sharp objects.
  • Turn her head to the side so that any saliva or vomit can drain from her mouth.
  • Do not put anything into her mouth; she will not swallow her tongue.
  • Gently clean saliva or other debris from the child’s mouth with a soft cloth
  • Check the time when the seizure begins and note how long it lasts.
  • Administer any treatment that your doctor has prescribed to stop seizure if this is a recurrence of febrile seizure. Call 999 if the seizure does not stop within three to five minutes or the child does not fully regain consciousness
  • When fully awake, give your child a medication to reduce fever
  • Call your child’s doctor.

For more information on Febrile Seizures click here – https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/head-neck-nervous-system/Pages/Febrile-Seizures.aspx

What are the precursors to epilepsy?

Of the small percentage of children that develop epilepsy, they tend to fall into one of the following categories:

  • Child has a family history of epilepsy
  • Patient has a neurological disability (e.g., cerebral palsy)
  • Child has developmental delays
  • Partial (one limb or one side) or prolonged (greater than 15 minutes)  or multiple febrile seizures during the same illness

Children without these risk factors will not most likely develop epilepsy.

What to do if your child has a seizure

The key, however difficult it is, is to not panic.

To keep your child safe and prevent accidental injury during a seizure, it is advisable to perform the following actions:

  • Place your child on a bed, or other soft surface
  • Prevent choking by laying your child on his or her side or stomach
  • Ensure your child is breathing adequately.
  • Never place anything in the child’s mouth during a convulsion

Most fever-induced seizures last for less than two minutes. If it goes beyond five minutes seek immediate emergency assistance.

Remember to make a note of everything that happened immediately before, during and after the seizure. The description of your child’s seizure is extremely important in helping the doctor evaluate the seriousness of any fit. The doctor will likely perform a physical examination and possibly some basic tests to ensure that nothing other than a fever has triggered the seizure.

Act quickly if you see these signs

If convulsions last five minutes or longer, take the child to the nearest medical facility for evaluation right away.  Ideally get someone else to call 999 if you can’t do it yourself whilst still at your child’s side.

Seek immediate action if the child:

  • Has a seizure that occurs on only one side of the body
  • Has a fever of 104 degrees or higher
  • Has more than one seizure in one day during the same illness
  • Has seizure with no associated fever or illness
  • Shows signs of extreme lethargy
  • Vomits
  • Develops a stiff neck

In either case, make sure you visit the doctors as soon as possible to ensure that there is nothing more sinister going on.

TutorCare offer a number of courses on Epilepsy Awareness and associated training.  An advanced epilepsy awareness course teaches care staff and family members to support patients with disabilities.  In addition they offer an epilepsy train the trainer course for those wishing to help develop the skillsets of other staff members.

Further reading:

Epilepsy.org.uk

NHS: Epilepsy Treatment

Epilepsy Awareness – Purple Day

Training Article  Health and safety at work: the basics (pt.1)

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