A seizure can be a terrifying experience for everyone involved—both the person experiencing the seizure and the people witnessing it. Knowing how to respond to a seizure can help you remain calm if one happens, so you can get the victim the care he or she needs as soon as possible.
What is a seizure?
Seizures are caused by sudden electrical disturbances or surges in the brain, which the brain can’t control. Seizures can cause a wide range of physical and mental effects, including:
- Uncontrollable shaking/muscle spasms
- Falling/inability to stand
- Loss of awareness/consciousness
- Dilated pupils
- Difficulty breathing
- Experiencing unusual smells or tastes
- Sudden, rapid eye movements
- Loss of vision or hearing
- Seeing things that aren’t there (flashing lights or hallucinations)
- Loss of control of bladder or bowels
There are many different types of seizures, and they can range from mild to severe. It’s important to know how to respond to a seizure so that you can help the victim get the proper first aid treatment quickly.
What causes a seizure?
Seizures can be caused by a wide variety of factors, and it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of a seizure. For infants and children, common causes of seizures include fevers and infections, or birth/pregnancy complications in newborns (like oxygen deprivation or maternal drug use). In adults, it’s more common for seizures to be caused by head trauma or a long term condition (such as Down’s syndrome).
Other less common causes of seizures include:
- Drug use
- Brain tumor
- Alcohol abuse
- Alcohol withdrawal
- Low blood sodium
- Extremely low blood sugar
- Brain defects
That said, some seizures have no immediate cause, and can often be attributed to genetics.
What is epilepsy?
If a person has recurrent seizures (at least two) that were not caused by a known condition (such as an infection or low blood sugar), he or she will likely be diagnosed with epilepsy. For many people with epilepsy, the underlying cause of their seizures is unknown.
People with epilepsy can experience frequent or infrequent seizures that are mild or severe. In other words, the word “epilepsy” doesn’t communicate anything about the severity or frequency of a person’s seizures.
Epilepsy can usually be managed fairly well with medication and lifestyle adaptations.
How do I help someone who is having a seizure?
First aid for seizures is important to know. After all, a quick, level-headed reaction can make all the difference.
First aid for seizures is fairly straightforward, but during a real emergency, it’s easy to panic. If you find yourself facing an emergency situation, and you feel panicky, take a deep breath and clear your head. When you can think clearly, you’ll be able to help more effectively.
As a witness to a seizure, your main job is to keep the person safe until the seizure ends and/or medical help can arrive.
Here are the specific steps you need to follow when helping someone who is having a seizure:
Track the time. Once you notice symptoms of a seizure, start counting in your head to time how long the seizure lasts. If the person needs medical attention, this will be important for doctors to know.
Gently help the person to the ground. A common cause of injury from seizures is falling. Help the seizing person to the ground, carefully, in order to prevent this. Once you’ve helped them to the ground, there’s no need to hold them down.
Turn the person on their side. A seizure may cause vomiting or excess drooling, and if the person is on their back, this may lead to choking. Keep the airway clear. DO NOT place anything in the person’s mouth. This is outdated and incorrect information and is extremely dangerous.
Clear the area of potentially harmful objects. This includes sharp or hard objects.
Make them as comfortable as possible. Loosen any clothing that is tight around the neck. If you can, place something small and soft under their head.
Check for a medical bracelet. Some people with epilepsy wear a medical bracelet to inform others of their condition and any special factors.
Should I call 911 if someone is having a seizure?
Sometimes, it’s necessary to call 911 if someone is having a seizure. If anything of the following are true, call for help as soon as possible:
- It’s their first seizure (to your knowledge).
- The person is having difficulty breathing.
- The person is diabetic.
- The person was hurt during the seizure.
- The seizure happened in water.
- The person has additional health conditions like heart disease.
- The person is pregnant.
- The seizure lasts longer than three minutes.
- The seizure happened quickly after a previous seizure.
- You’ve been instructed by this person, their parent or guardian to call 911 if an episode occurs.
Note: If you aren’t sure whether or not to call 911, go ahead and call. Erring on the side of caution will help ensure that the victim gets the proper care quickly.
Seizures are scary, but it’s possible to handle them in a smart, calm way that keeps the victim safe. Knowing how to respond will help you be efficient and effective in case of emergency.