What To Do If Your Child Has a Seizure: Triggers and Tactics To Help You Cope
Watching your child have a seizure is one of the scariest things a parent can witness. But seizures are actually quite common. “Seizures happen when the brain has a sudden disruption of electrical activity in which cells are misfiring too much at the same time,” explains Stephanie Jackson, M.D., a pediatric neurologist at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. This can cause uncontrollable shaking—either all over the body or just in one part of the body.
One seizure also doesn’t mean that your child will develop epilepsy, which is defined as a pattern of unprovoked seizures without a clear trigger. Seizures can happen for a variety of reasons including a high fever, concussion, low blood sugar or other metabolic imbalances, adverse reactions to medications, and a drug overdose. Though your first instinct may be to panic if you see your child seizing, try to remain calm. There are steps you can take to manage the situation during the episode and afterward. Here, Dr. Jackson explains what parents need to know.
Get your child to a safe spot
Your most important job is to try to make sure your child doesn’t get hurt when his body is out of his control. “Make sure there’s nothing around your child in his immediate vicinity that could hurt him—no sharp corners that he could bump or heavy objects that could fall on him if he knocks into them,” says Dr. Jackson. If you can, put your child on a soft surface on his side. “This will lessen the risk of aspirating and choking if he were to vomit because gravity will help it fall out of his mouth,” she adds. And contrary to the old wives’ tale, do not put anything in your child’s mouth to bite during a seizure. “Avoid sticking anything in his mouth—not a finger or a spoon because if he clamps down, this could injure one or both of you and it’s not going to help him,” explains Dr. Jackson.
“Try to look at your watch and time the actual seizure because that’s very helpful information for your doctor to know,” says Dr. Jackson. “Otherwise, your perception of time is going to be extremely skewed; a few seconds could feel like forever during a seizure.” Most seizures tend to resolve within three minutes, and some last seconds.
As much as you can, pay attention to every detail of the seizure. What kind of movements do you see? Is your child shaking on one side of the body, in one area of the body, or all over the body? Is there stiffening of the body? How did the seizure start—in one area or all over? What was your child doing directly before the seizure began? “That is also going to be really helpful to the physician,” says Dr. Jackson. “With seizures, the description that the parents give is often all we have to go on, so it’s incredibly important information.”
Call for medical help
“If it’s a long seizure that doesn’t stop after a few minutes, call 911—because if it goes on, it could be dangerous for the brain,” says Dr. Jackson. If the seizure resolves quickly and your child is recovering, call your doctor for guidance. A simple febrile seizure (a seizure that results from high fever) may not require a visit to the pediatrician right away. On the other hand, another seizure could be a sign of an urgent infection and you may need to get to a doctor immediately, says Dr. Jackson. The bottom line: Call for medical advice immediately after the seizure, no matter the circumstances, and let your physician guide you how to move forward.
As soon as you’re able, write down your observations and the timing of the seizure. It will help you remember the details. Those notes will also serve as a good record if your child is referred to a neurologist for further evaluation.
-- By Rachel Rabkin Peachman