How to cope when your child has a seizure from fever

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In January 2012, I was flying home from Dubai
with my husband and our two daughters.
We had just settled into our 14-hour flight to
Toronto. Our two-and-a-half-year-old was
content watching a movie and our 14-month-old,
Amelia, was asleep on my chest. It was
smooth sailing, until Amelia vomited. That’s
when I realized that her eyes were glassy, she
was burning up, shaking and unresponsive. As
my husband called for a flight attendant, the
situation quickly escalated; Amelia was now
violently convulsing and foaming at the mouth.
The plane was over water, there was no way
out. We thought we were going to lose our baby.
It was the longest fi ve minutes of my life and
Amelia’s only febrile seizure to date.

Children who have a febrile seizure are
generally healthy kids, Amelia
just happened to react to this
particular fever in a drastic

Febrile seizures are episodes
of uncontrollable jerking
movements that are provoked
by a fever, typically occurring
without warning as the fever
begins to spike. Children who
have a history of febrile seizures
can seize at any fever over 38°C.
Approximately one in every 25
children between six months and
five years will have one febrile
seizure. About 30 percent of these
children will have subsequent

“Febrile seizures are most
common in the second year
of life, peaking at 18 months
of age,” says Dr. Elizabeth
Donner, pediatric neurologist
at SickKids Hospital in Toronto
and associate professor at the
University of Toronto. Although
there is no known cause for
febrile seizures, there appears to
be a strong genetic component.
While terrifying, they are often
short and harmless, and kids
usually bounce back quickly
from a single, typical febrile seizure. Most febrile seizures last
less than fi ve minutes, says Dr.
Donner. However, if the seizure
lasts longer than fi ve minutes, call
an ambulance right away.

Your child will be drowsy and
confused after the seizure so let
him or her sleep. Treat the fever,
keep the child well hydrated
and avoid heavy blankets. Take
the child to a doctor as soon as
possible; the doctor will want to
determine the cause of the fever
and will want you to describe
the seizure. How long did it last?
How did the child look and move?
The doctor will also likely ask you
about the child’s development.
All of this information will help
the doctor to determine the type
of febrile seizure and help rule
out any other brain dysfunction.

Once the fever breaks, give
yourself and your child a day on
the couch; you both deserve it.
And try to find solace in knowing
that not every fever will result
in a febrile seizure and that your
child will outgrow it.

When febrile seizures strike

  • Remain calm. 
  • Check the time so you
    have a rough idea of how
    long the seizure lasts. 
  • Keep the child safe
    by clearing the area and
    rolling the child gently
    on the side, or at least
    turning their head to
    the side so that fluid can
    drain from the mouth. 
  • Place something soft
    under the child’s head. 
  • Loosen tight clothing
    (especially around
    the neck) and remove
  • Never restrain the
    child or place anything in
    the mouth (they will not
    swallow their tongue). 
  • Never submerge the
    child in water or give the
    child medication, unless
    instructed to do so by a
    doctor. You have to wait it out. It will stop.

Risks factors for
subsequent febrile

  1. Family history of febrile
  2. Have a first febrile
    seizure before the age of
    18 months 
  3. Having a seizure very
    soon after the onset of
    fever (within one hour) 
  4. Moderate fever at
    the time of the seizure
    (between 39°C to 40°C)

Originaly published in ParentsCanada magazine, February/March 2013.

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