Great Ormond’s Street has reported that 1 in 50 children will have had a febrile convulsion by the time they are five years old. They occur most frequently in babies and young children who are unwell and have a rising body temperature. Their rising temperature acts as a trigger for them to experience a seizure. Although most children grow out of febrile convulsions by the age of about 6 and it is extremely rare for febrile convulsions to be life-threatening or cause long-term problems they can be incredibly frightening for anyone caring for the child when one occurs.
What is a Seizure?
Seizure is the medical term for a fit or convulsion that occurs when there is a sudden burst of electrical activity in the brain which temporarily interferes with the normal messaging processes.
It is possible to reduce a child’s temperature, however, be extremely careful that you do not cause them any distress in cooling them and that you do not over-cool them.
To reduce their temperature:
- Take off excess clothing.
- Use a tepid flannel to gently sponge the child under the arms and on their forehead, ensure it doesn’t cause them any distress and doesn’t over-cool them.
- Give them plenty to drink.
- If they are feeling unwell, give them Paediatric Paracetamol or Paediatric Ibuprofen to relieve their symptoms – as well as helping them feel better, it will also help to reduce their temperature.
If the child in your care starts fitting:
- Maintain their safety – remove any objects from around them to prevent injury
- Protect their dignity and talk to them calmly
- Cushion their head using a blanket or pillow, but do not restrain them
- Time how long the fit lasts
- Loosen any tight clothes/blankets and remove any excess clothing if it is possible to do so.
Do not try to pick them up or restrain them and do not be tempted to put anything in their mouth whilst they are fitting. It is possible that they may bite their lips or tongue during the seizure but there is nothing you can do. The fit can last from seconds to minutes. During the seizure it is possible that they could go blue and appear to stop breathing (for less than a minute). However, they should start breathing again extremely quickly and spontaneously, but ensure you are checking continually and are ready to give CPR if necessary.
When the seizure has finished it is likely the casualty will feel confused and drowsy. If they are unresponsive, put them into the recovery position.
Unfortunately, once a child or baby has had a seizure, they have shown they have a pre-disposition and thereofore are likely to have further seizures if they experience a raised temperature again, you should be very aware if they become ill again and trying and prevent their temperature from rising as far as possible. Fortunately, there is no evidence to suggest that febrile convulsions cause any long-term damage and children usually grow out of them by the time they are 5 or 6 years old.
Phone for an ambulance if:
- it is their first seizure
- the seizure lasts more than 5 minutes
- they have another seizure soon after the first
- they are injured
- their breathing does not appear ‘normal’ after the seizure
- they regularly have seizures and this one is different
- they are unresponsive for more than 5 minutes after the seizure
- you are worried for any reason
- put your fingers or anything in their mouth to try and prevent them biting their tongue – this could cause serious injury
- try and move them (unless they are in immediate danger)
- restrain their movements whilst they are fitting
- give them anything to eat or drink until fully recovered
- try and ‘bring them round’
If the casualty is conscious during the seizure, it is most important to ensure their safety, and to reassure them.
First Aid for Life and onlinefirstaid.com provide this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made or actions taken based on this information. The best way to be prepared for action in an emergency is to attend a practical first aid course or do one online.