A child seizing can be a terrifying experience for parents. Fortunately, seizures that occur in young children are usually “febrile” seizures and are typically harmless. However, up to 5% of kids will experience one or more febrile seizures before the age of five, so parents need to understand the basics.
What is a Febrile Seizure?
Febrile seizures are seizures caused by high fever, which typically occur in children between six months and five years of age.
There are two types of febrile seizures: simple and complex.
Simple febrile seizures generally do not last longer than five minutes. However, in some cases, they may last as long as fifteen minutes. Simple seizures result in full-body convulsions and do not reoccur within a 24 hour period.
Complex febrile seizures last for more than fifteen minutes, usually only involve one part of the body, and may reoccur within a 24 hour period.
Researchers aren’t completely clear on what causes febrile seizures, but it is believed they may be linked to certain viruses or a brain that has not yet completely developed.
What Happens During a Febrile Seizure?
During a febrile seizure, a child may experience the following
- Convulsions (shake and twitch)
- Eye rolling
- Vomiting or urination
- Foaming at the mouth
- Difficulty breathing
- Become pale or turn blue
- Lose consciousness
- It is normal for a child to be sleepy or drowsy for up to an hour after having a febrile seizure.
Are Febrile Seizures Dangerous?
The vast majority of febrile seizures are not dangerous and do not lead to any lasting problems.
Rarely, a child may have recurrent and prolonged seizures that could lead to brain damage. In these cases, children are typically placed on anti-seizure medications.
There is an increased risk of epilepsy in children who experience febrile seizures. If the child is healthy, has only had simple seizures, and has no family history of seizure disorders, the risk is only slightly elevated. However, if the child is developmentally delayed before having their first seizure, has experienced complex seizures, or has a family history of seizure disorders, the risk of epilepsy may be as high as ten percent.
What Should You Do If Your Child Has a Seizure?
If a child begins to seize, there are several steps a parent should take to minimize potential injuries and safely reduce the child’s temperature
- Carefully lay the child on the floor
- Make sure there is no furniture nearby (a child can hit their head or injure themselves while seizing)
- Gently roll the child to the side to prevent choking (a child may vomit during a seizure)
- If this is the child’s first seizure, or if they have previously had “complex” febrile seizures, call 911.
If this is not the child’s first seizure and previous seizures were “simple,” it is recommended to call 911 if future seizures last longer than five minutes or if any of the following occur:
- The seizure involves only one part of the body
- The child has difficulty breathing or is turning blue
- The child vomits during or after the seizure
- It takes the child longer than one hour to return to normal after the seizure
- The child has another seizure within 24 hours
Avoid the following during a seizure
- Do not put anything in the child’s mouth
- Do not attempt to restrain the child
- Do not use cold water on the child
To reduce the child’s temperature after the seizure, you may administer ibuprofen or acetaminophen as directed by your doctor. Applying cool washcloths to the forehead or neck after the seizure may also help to lower their temperature. Never use cold water, as this may signal the body to “warm up,” and their fever may spike.
Will a Child Have More Febrile Seizures?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a child who is younger than one year of age when they have their first seizure has a 50 percent chance of having a future seizure. Children older than one year of age at the time of their first seizure have a 30 percent chance of experiencing another seizure.
A family history of febrile seizures or seizure disorders can make it more likely that the child will have a recurrence.
Children will typically outgrow febrile seizures by the age of five.
While febrile seizures may be scary, they typically are not a cause for concern. However, parents need to understand febrile seizures and what to do if their child experiences one. Being prepared beforehand will help a parent to remain calm and manage their child’s seizure appropriately.