Febrile Seizures: Scary but Harmless
Between 2 and 5% of all children aged 6 months to 5 years will experience a seizure associated with a fever – or febrile (FEE-bry-l) – seizure. Commonly referred to as “convulsions,” parents who have witnessed one of these episodes will tell you that it’s one of the scariest times in their lives.
What is a Febrile Seizure?
One minute, your child has a simple cold or virus with your basic fever, then the next minute the child’s eyes have rolled back in their head, his limbs start twitching, and breathing becomes irregular and can even stop. Other signs include crying or moaning, collapsing to the floor if standing, passing urine, vomiting, biting of the tongue, no response to your voice.
While the entire episode may last only a minute or two, it can seem like the longest couple minutes of your life. Some febrile seizures can last up to 15 minutes.
Why do Febrile Seizures Happen?
Febrile seizures happen, usually, in children with fevers higher than 102 F, but can also occur with lower fevers, and usually because there has been a sudden spike in temperature.
While any child between 6 months and 5 years can have one, febrile seizures are most common in toddlers between 12 and 18 months. They are more likely to occur if there is a family history of them.
If the seizure lasts longer than 15 minutes and involves only one area of the body, or recurs during the same illness, it is likely not a febrile seizure, but part of something else.
What can I do if My Child is Having a Febrile Seizure?
If your child experiences a febrile seizure:
1) Move your child to the floor or other safe place (crib, playpen). If she’s on the floor, clear away any sharp or hard items.
2) Turn her on her side to allow saliva and vomit to drain from the mouth, instead of going back in her throat.
3) Loosen the child’s clothing.
4) Make sure she doesn’t have anything in her mouth and don’t put anything in her mouth during the seizure.
5) Do not put your child in cool water, sponge her off or give her fever medication during the seizure.
6) Do not restrain your child or physically stop the convulsions.
7) Call 9-1-1 if the seizure lasts longer than 3 minutes, or if your child is having difficulty breathing or has started to turn blue. (If you know infant CPR, use the breathing techniques while you’re waiting.)
8) Once the seizure has stopped, continue efforts to bring the fever down, with suppository fever reducers, cool washcloths to the forehead, lukewarm sponge baths (not cold), and cool clothing.
9) Your child may go limp and be unresponsive once the seizure is over. If her breathing has returned to normal, just let her rest.
“The first febrile seizure is a frightening moment for parents. Most parents are afraid that their child will die or have brain damage. However, simple febrile seizures are harmless. There is no evidence that they cause death, brain damage, epilepsy, a decrease in IQ, or learning problems. Most children outgrow febrile seizures by age 5.” (NYT)
Darlene Oakley is a freelance writer for Empowher.com
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Febrile Seizures: Frightening, but Generally Harmless. Sensiper, Sylvia.
Combined vaccine tied to fever-related seizures.