More often than not, when a parent attends our class it is the first time they have ever heard of febrile seizures. Whilst we don't want to frighten parents, we feel it's better to be forewarned and forearmed. After all, if your child experiences a febrile seizure and you have never heard of them, it is likely to be an extremely distressing experience.
What is a febrile seizure?
Febrile seizures (also known as febrile convulsions) are fits that can happen when a child has a fever. Around 1 in 20 children will have at least one febrile seizure at some point. They most often happen between the ages of 6 months and 3 years, the age at which our body’s heat control system is rather amateur and we are unable to regulate our body temperature properly. Illnesses which bring on a fever such as chicken pox, flu, ear infections and tonsillitis are some of the more common causes of febrile seizures, although it’s important to remember they don’t usually cause seizures. Other infections associated with febrile seizures are urinary tract infections, gastroenteritis, pneumonia and bronchitis.
Medical professionals think there may be a genetic link when it comes to febrile seizures, as the chances of a child having them are higher if a close family member has a history of them.
What happens during a seizure?
When a baby or child experiences a febrile seizure, their body goes stiff and twitches or jolts (sometimes violently), and during this time they will be unconscious. Sometimes the child will be sick, foam at the mouth and their eyes may roll back. They may also wet or soil themselves. The seizure (fit) usually lasts for less than 5 minutes.
After the seizure, your child may be sleepy for up to an hour. A straightforward febrile seizure like this will only happen once during an illness.
Febrile seizures and epilepsy
A lot of parents worry that if their child has febrile seizures, they will develop epilepsy when they are older. Whilst it is true that children who have a history of febrile seizures have an increased risk of developing epilepsy, this increase is very small. If you have any concerns then talk to your GP.
How should you react to a febrile seizure?
- As much as you can, stay calm and remember this is just the body’s way of coping with an unusually high temperature
Protect your child’s head from harm by padding around the head
Move hard items away from them that might hurt them
Do not move the casualty unless they are not in a safe place
Remove clothing to slowly reduce fever and cool the body
Do not put anything in their mouth including medicine or a thermometer as this could cause injury or tongue biting
Ensure your child has a supply of fresh air
Stay with them and try to keep a note of how long the seizure lasts
Call 999 and ask for an ambulance, making them aware if you think the seizure has been caused by a serious illness like meningitis
Once the seizure is over, place your child on their side with their head tilted back (the recovery position)
Continue to monitor your child's breathing
As it is unlikely that your doctor will have seen the seizure occuring, an account of what happened will be really useful. Ideally let your doctor know:
- how long the seizure lasted
- what happened eg twitching legs and arms, foaming at the mouth
- did your child recover within an hour?
- have they had a seizure before?
While it is unlikely there is anything seriously wrong, it is nevertheless important to get your child checked over by medical professionals by alerting 999. Febrile seizures usually only occur once, so if the seizure reoccurs within 24 hours, again ring 999 as this could be a sign of something more serious.
Source: NHS online, NHS Inform Scotland.
Do you own a digital thermometer?
At Mini First Aid we would highly recommend that every home owns a digital thermometer. They are the quickest and easiest way to take the most accurate temperature reading and are really important for working out when your child has got a more serious illness. These digital thermometers are super easy to use, even on wriggly babies, and give a clear, accurate measurement in seconds.