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What Happens If My Child Has A Febrile Seizure?

Febrile seizures can be terrifiying to witness, but thankfully they do not usually cause any harm. Emma Parkin finds out what to do if your child has one:

Like most parents, I tend to avoid thinking about frightening health situations that could potentially occur with my child unless I absolutely have to. Febrile seizures are something I have read about, written about, and … swiftly tried to forget about – until my daughter Nina had one.

I've since discovered that febrile seizures (also known as febrile convulsions) are actually fairly common, with an estimated one in 20 children having at least one at some point. They're usually caused by a child having a high temperature of 38ºCF (100.4ºF) or above.

And although seizures are extremely terrifying to witness, most are harmless and do not pose a threat to a child’s health.

High temperature

In Nina’s case (she was 23 months at the time), her febrile seizure was most likely caused by a high temperature. She had been struggling with a cold from the beginnning of the week – and her temperature was consistently 38°C every night. I had been giving her the recommended doses of baby medicine, which was helping to reduce the fever.

Fever pitch

By the Saturday afternoon of that week, Nina’s temperature rose to 39.2°C. Despite this, she was still in good form – happily playing with her toys and asking for water and snacks.

I changed her nappy with the intention of giving her more medicine. She waited in her cot while I washed my hands and when I returned, I found her lying on her front making little groans and twitching.

I lifted her up, not realising what was happening. She began to froth at the mouth, and her eyes had a vacant, staring expression, while her little body shook and stiffened in my arms. The whole frightening episode lasted for nearly two minutes.

In a panic, I placed Nina on the bed on her side to allow the drool to flow out from her mouth, and my reflex action was to call for an ambulance, which arrived 25 minutes later.

Did you know?

Most febrile seizures occur between the ages of six months and three years – the average age is 18 months.

Cool down

After asking me a few questions about Nina, the ambulance paramedics took her temperature, which had now risen to 40°C – they gave her some baby paracetemol and asked me to strip her down to her vest to allow her body to cool down. We were then taken to Crumlin hospital, where the team ran a few tests to find out what was causing the high fever.

Thankfully, Nina was back to her cheeky, fun-loving self within a couple of hours, and after a long night in the emergency room, she was diagnosed with viral laryngitis. We were sent home with the advice to give her lots of fluids, and to keep her fever at bay with regular doses of baby medicine. I don't think I've ever felt so relieved.

Two things this experience taught me is that firstly, it’s helpful to know what to do when your child has a febrile seizure and secondly, it’s vital to do what you can to reduce a child's high temperature.

Read Next: What Are The Best Ways To Fight Fevers?

What do I do if my child is having a seizure?

The NHS advises that if your child is having a febrile seizure, to lay them on their side, on a soft surface, with their face turned to one side. This will prevent them from swallowing any vomit. It will keep their airway open and help to prevent injury.

Do not put anything in your child's mouth while they are having a seizure. Take your child to the nearest hospital or dial 999/112 for an ambulance if:

  • Your child is having a fit for the first time.
  • The seizure lasts longer than five minutes and shows no signs of stopping.
  • You suspect the seizure is being caused by another serious illness – for example, meningitis.
  • Your child is having breathing difficulties.

While it's unlikely that there's anything seriously wrong, it's important to get your child checked. (www.nhs.uk)

What happens during a febrile seizure?

  • Your child's body will become stiff and their arms and legs will begin to twitch.
  • They will lose consciousness and they may wet or soil themselves.
  • Your child may also vomit and foam at the mouth.
  • The seizure usually lasts for less than five minutes.
  • Following a febrile seizure, your child may be sleepy for up to an hour afterwards.

Treating febrile seizures

Almost all children make a complete recovery. Tests may also be required to find out what is causing the child's high temperature. This is particularly the case in children who are under 12 months old and in those where there is no clinically obvious source of the fever. There is no specific treatment for febrile seizures other than treating the underlying cause of the child's high temperature.

Read Next: 8 Tips To Help Your Sick Child Sleep Through The Night

Fever facts

A normal temperature is between 36 and 36.8ºC (96.8 and 98.24ºF). In children, any temperature of 38°C (100.4°F) or above is considered high and is classed as a fever. To find out if your child has a fever, place a thermometer under their armpit or use a special ear thermometer.

Your child might display other symptoms such as sweating, accompanied by hot, flushed skin, headache, and other aches and pains.

A high temperature is usually caused by bacterial or viral infection, but can also be linked to other illnesses such as earache, sore throat, chicken pox or measles.

How to treat a high temperature:

  1. Administer the recommended dose of baby/children medicine at the advised timings. Some painkillers are only suitable for children over a certain age or in small doses. Always read the label to make sure you give the correct dosage for your child's age and do not exceed the stated dose.
  2. Make sure your child is cool and comfortable. Removing your baby’s clothing and bed covering will help to cool them down.
  3. If you are in doubt about your child’s condition, seek medical advice immediately.

For more health advice, visit our Child Health section.

This advice should not be used in place of instructions from a medical professional. If in doubt, call your GP, or in case of an emergency phone 999.


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