What to do when someone has a seizure

Knowing what to do when someone has a seizure - and what not to do - can help make sure that the child, teen or adult is immediately safe.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 out of 10 people may have a seizure in their lifetime. Having a seizure is much more common than many people realize –– and one day, you may need to help someone. Do you know what to do when someone has a seizure?  How do you provide seizure first aid?

First up: What you shouldn’t do

There are a lot of myths about helping someone experiencing a seizure. Knowing what not to do can help make sure that the child, teen or adult having the seizure is immediately safe. If you see someone having a seizure:

  • Do not put anything in the person’s mouth. This is a prevailing myth; someone having a seizure can’t choke on or swallow his or her tongue. Placing something in the mouth can cause injury to the teeth or jaw.
  • Do not hold the person down. This doesn’t stop or shorten the seizure. Don’t try to stop his or her movements, as it may cause injuries and make the person upset, confused or aggressive.
  • Don’t attempt mouth-to-mouth breathing, such as CPR. During a tonic-clonic or grand mal seizure (think convulsive seizure), it may look like the person has stopped breathing. This is because the chest muscles tighten during the tonic or “stiffening” part of seizure. The person will usually start breathing on his or her own after the seizure.
  • Don’t offer water, pills or food until the person is fully alert. If someone isn’t fully awake or aware, there is a choking hazard. They may not be able to swallow correctly, and any food or drink may go into the lungs.

Seizure first aid: What to do when someone has a seizure

There are many types of seizures that people can experience. Most people think of the tonic-clonic (grand mal), convulsing type seizures. The most important thing in providing help to a person experiencing a seizure is to give general care and comfort and keep the person safe.

You can provide support for any kind of seizure by following these steps:

  • Make sure the person is breathing OK; check for a medical bracelet or other emergency information.A medical ID may let you and medical personnel know how best to care for a person. If the person is lying down, turn the person on his or her side, with the mouth pointing down to the ground. This can help keep saliva from blocking the airway and help the person breathe easier.If the person is at risk of falling, call for help and get the person down on the floor.
  • Clear the area around the person.Remove anything hard or sharp near the person to help prevent injury. Keep onlookers away; encourage people to stay back or leave the area if in public. Waking up or recovering with an audience can be confusing or embarrassing after a seizure.
  • Stay with the person until the seizure is over. Seizures are unpredictable in that a person may not know how long it will last or what will happen during it. A person could experience mild symptoms but then fall or lose consciousness. There is a risk of injury during and after the seizure, and the person may need help. Stay until the person is fully awake and able to communicate. Help him or her sit in a safe place.
  • Time the seizure. Look at a clock or watch and time the seizure –– from the onset of symptoms to the end. Also, time how long it takes for the person to recover and return to what is normal activity for him or her.
  • Stay calm and be a comfort. Staying calm is crucial while someone’s having a seizure. If you’re calm, it can help others stay calm as well. People can feel embarrassed or confused about what happened. After the seizure, speak calmly, clearly and in simple terms to let the person know he or she is safe. Offer to stay with the person or call a parent or loved one for the person.
  • Know when to call 911. Seizures do not usually require medical attention. People with epilepsy and other conditions may be used to these experiences, while it may be unfamiliar for you. You should call 911 if:
    • The person has never had seizure before.
    • The person having a seizure asks you to.
    • The seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes.
    • The person has problems breathing or waking up after the seizure.
    • The person has another seizure soon after a seizure ends.
    • The person has a seizure closer together than usual for that person’s condition.
    • The person is injured during the seizure.
    • The seizure happened in water.
    • The person has a health condition such as diabetes, heart disease or is pregnant.

Norton Children’s epilepsy care

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Diagnosing and treating epilepsy at Norton Children’s

When your child has a seizure for the first time, it can be frightening. Children can experience a wide variety of seizures and epilepsy conditions and syndromes. Epilepsy can start at any age, as young as infancy. Norton Children’s Neuroscience Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, can help discover what may have caused the seizure and begin treatment that’s tailored to your child.

Some epilepsy conditions are easily treated and managed by medicines, and others may be severe and require surgery. Our physicians can work with you and your child to develop a treatment plan that can lead to your child becoming seizure-free. Norton Children’s Comprehensive Epilepsy Center has held the highest rating available from the National Association of Epilepsy Centers since 2013.