First Aid Tips on Keeping a Person with a Seizure Safe

Protecting and Providing Comfort to a Person Having a Seizure

Checking the pulse of someone who has collapsed and is having a seizure
What should you do if you see someone having a seizure?. RunPhoto/Getty Images

Whether you have a loved one with epilepsy, or perhaps know a co-worker or an acquaintance with it, there might be a chance that you will witness a seizure. While it's a scary experience to have a seizure, it can be just as frightening to witness one—especially if you do not know what to do.

What to Do if You See Someone Having a Seizure

Here are some helpful tips you can use to help assist someone who is having a convulsive seizure (a grand mal seizure).

Your main goal to ensure the safety of the person and provide comfort. By knowing what to do, you can help prevent injury to the person having the seizure, as well as reassure others around you who don’t know what to do.

  • If you see somebody begin to have a seizure, don't panic. Take a deep breath and remain calm.
  • If the individual is sitting upright in a chair when the seizure begins, gently guide him or her to the floor or try to prevent them from falling. Head injuries are common in individuals having a seizure and usually result from the fall at the onset of the seizures.
  • Move all heavy or sharp objects away from the individual having the seizure so that he does not injure himself. This includes tables, chairs, or any other hard structures.
  • You might place something soft, like a jacket or blanket, beneath the person's head to help prevent head injuries.
  • Remove their eyeglasses if you can safely do so.
  • If possible, place the individual in the lateral position (on their side). While it may be helpful to loosen belts or ties while the individual is having the seizure to help them breathe easier, never hold somebody down during his seizure. Let the seizure take its course.
  • Many people worry about the individual swallowing or biting their tongue during the seizure. While this may be of concern, never place your fingers in someone’s mouth during their seizure. Not only could this harm the individual by causing injury to their jaw or obstructing their airway, you could also be injured by getting your hand bitten.

    When to Seek Emergency Medical Attention

    After an individual has had a seizure, it's common for them to remain unconscious for a short period of time. Some tips on knowing when to call 911 for emergency help, according to the Epilepsy Foundation include:

    • A seizure that lasts five minutes or longer (status epilepticus is a medical emergency in which a seizure lasts five to thirty minutes without a person regaining consciousness)
    • Seizures that occur one after another without a person becoming conscious between each one
    • Seizures that occur closer together that were is typical for that person.
    • When the person having the seizure has trouble breathing or is choking
    • When the person having the seizure asks for medical attention.

    It's also important to seek emergent help if the seizure occurs in water or if an injury occurs due to the seizure.

    These general tips on when to seek emergency attention are designed for those who have epilepsy and are known to have seizures. If you see someone having a seizure who does not have a history of seizures, call 911 right away.

    It's also important to use your judgment. Even if a person does not have any of the situations above, for example, if a seizure lasts less than five minutes, call 911 if this seizure is different in any way from the person's "normal" seizures.

    What Should You Do When the Seizure Ends?

    When the individual has woken up from their seizure, he may be disoriented and may not know what happened. In medical lingo this is referred to as the "postictal state." Reassure them that everything is OK and calmly let them know what happened. It's important to make sure that injuries, if any, are addressed.

    If you have called for emergency help, the paramedics (and emergency physician) may ask you what the person was doing just prior to having the seizure. In some cases this information can be helpful in determining the triggers for a seizure, and also alerts the emergency staff as to any other conditions they should know about.

    An example would be someone who has diabetes as well as epilepsy and was showing signs of a low blood sugar just prior to the seizure.

    Are There Any Signs to Watch For That Might Alert You to a Seizure?

    In addition to knowing what to do and when to get help, many people wonder if there is any way they can predict if someone will have a seizure so they can be prepared ahead of time. We know that changes take place in the brain before a seizure begins, and this is the reasoning behind seizure alert dogs. Some people have auras before a seizure, a kind of "warning sign" that a seizure is going to occur. The type of aura a person has can vary tremendously from visual hallucinations, to deja vu feelings, to nausea, yet for an individual person these auras may be similar each time. If you have a loved one, or anyone around you who may have a seizure, ask if they ordinarily have an aura so that you will be tuned in to recognize them if they should occur.

    For Loved Ones

    It's estimated that around one percent of the population has epilepsy, and of these people, 40 percent have at least two seizures per year. If you have a loved one with epilepsy you may wish to consider epilepsy first aid training. There are several advocacy organizations as well through which people can distribute education information designed to help the general public have an awareness of what to do in the event of a seizure.

    Caring for Yourself as You Care For Someone with Seizures

    Of course we've talked primarily about the person you witness having a seizure, but it can be very traumatic to witness a seizure, especially if you haven't seen one before. Take the time to talk to another loved one about your experience, expressing your fear, or any other emotions you experienced. It might also be a good time to try some relaxation exercises such as deep breathing. It's important to take care of yourself as well, recognizing that seizures are stressful not only for those who have them, but those who witness them.

    Sources:

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Seizure First Aid. Updated 10/13/15. https://www.cdc.gov/epilepsy/basics/first-aid.htm

    Noble, A., Marson, A., Tudur-Smith, C., Morgan, M., Hughes, D., Goodacre, S., and L. Ridsale. ’Seizure First Aid Training’ for People with Epilepsy Who Attend Emergency Departments, and Their Family and Friends: Study Protocol for Intervention Development and a Pilot Randomised Controlled Trial. BMJ Open. 2015. 5(7):e009040.

    Snape, D., Morgan, M., Ridsdale, L., Goodacre, S., Marson, A., and A. Noble. Developing and Assessing the Acceptability of an Epilepsy First Aid Training Intervention for Patients who Visit UK Emergency Departments: A Multi-Method Study of Patients and Professionals. Epilepsy and Behavior. 2017. 68:177-185.

    DISCLAIMER: The information in this site is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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