If you’re around someone who has a seizure, it can be confusing to know what to do. While there are many types of seizures, basic seizure first aid helps ensure the safety of whoever is suffering. Remember: life happens. Plan for it.
What are Seizures?
A seizure occurs when one or more areas of the brain have an abnormal burst of electrical activity. Anything that disrupts normal connections between nerve cells in the brain can cause an episode to occur. This includes concussions, alcohol or drug withdrawal, a high fever, or high or low blood sugar. Symptoms of a seizure can include staring, jerking movements, stiffening in the body, loss of consciousness, rapid eye blinking, and appearing confused. There are many different types of seizures, and symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. Epilepsy, one of the most common disorders of the nervous system, is a brain condition that causes a person to have seizures. While many people have episodes due to known factors, doctors don’t know their cause in people with epilepsy.
Responding to Seizures
If you’re with someone who’s exhibiting the symptoms of a seizure or has a history of epilepsy, use the following tips to respond to the situation and keep the victim safe.
1. Stay with the person until the seizure is over.
Some seizures may start with few symptoms but can lead to a concussion or other injury. Because seizures can be somewhat unpredictable, it is best to remain with the person in case help is needed.
2. Note how long the seizure lasts.
Look at the time when you’re first aware the seizure is happening, as well as the time it is completely over. Note how long it takes the person to return to normal activity. If the person has epilepsy and the seizure lasts longer than usual, this is your cue to get medical help or administer previously prescribed rescue treatments.
3. Move nearby objects to prevent injury.
Do whatever is possible to help the person avoid injury. Move the objects you can, and help steer the person away from objects or obstacles you can’t. Make them as comfortable as possible in a seated position. If they are at risk of falling, make them comfortable on the floor and support their head to keep it from hitting the floor. Do not forcibly hold them down or restrict movement in any way. If they try to walk around, let them walk in a safe, enclosed area if one is available.
4. Do not put anything in the person’s mouth.
Many people who experience seizures bite down due to tightening facial and jaw muscles. During this time, it is imperative not to place anything in their mouth. Doing so can cause the person to break their teeth. They also could break the object in their mouth and choke on it. Do not offer pills, food, or water unless the person is fully alert following the seizure.
5. Check that their breathing is normal.
During certain types of seizures, tightening of the chest muscles can make it appear the person has stopped breathing. As this phase of the seizure ends, they should return to breathing normally. If the person is lying down, turn them to their side to prevent saliva from blocking the airway.
6. Call for emergency medical help.
While a person with epilepsy may know how to deal with his or her usual symptoms, there are times you should absolutely call for emergency medical help. Call 911 if:
- A seizure lasts longer than five minutes.
- Two seizures happen back-to-back without the person regaining awareness in between.
- Seizures occur more frequently than usual for the person.
- Breathing is impaired or the person appears to be choking.
- The seizure occurs in water.
- Injury occurs.
- The person asks for medical help.