First aid dos and don’ts when someone is having a seizure

By Lisa Marinelli Smith
NeuLine Health

Witnessing a seizure is unnerving whether you’re a bystander, friend or family member of someone having a seizure — especially if the person has never experienced one. 

Epileptic seizures can look and act differently, depending on the type of seizure. Generalized tonic-clonic seizures are what people typically picture when they envision a seizure. This type of seizure used to be called grand mal seizures, and during them a person can experience convulsions, lose consciousness, cry out and fall to the ground. 

Other types of epileptic seizures aren’t as intense. People may stare into space, blink rapidly or make repetitive, involuntary movements like smacking or rubbing hands together. During some seizures, people may be awake and aware. Other times, people can lose consciousness. 

Fortunately, in most cases, epileptic seizures don’t require emergency medical attention, but you can help the person stay safe by taking some simple steps.

What to do if someone has a seizure

Here’s how to help someone experiencing a seizure:

  • Check for medical ID 
  • Keep the airway clear
  • Keep the person safe — move or guide them away from any harmful areas or objects
  • Loosen clothes around the neck
  • Put something small and soft under the head 
  • Remove eyeglasses
  • Stay with the person until they’re awake after the seizure and able to communicate. 
  • Time the seizure. If it lasts longer than five minutes, you’ll want to call 911.  
  • Try your best to stay calm and comfort the person. Ask others around also to keep calm and give the person space. 
  • Turn the person onto their side until they’re awake and aware

What not to do if someone is having a seizure

Some actions aren’t helpful and can even be harmful when someone is having a seizure.

Please do not:

  • Give mouth-to-mouth CPR
  • Give them anything to eat or drink until they’ve recovered
  • Hold the person down
  • Leave them alone
  • Put anything in their mouth. You can’t swallow your tongue during a seizure, so don’t try to hold a tongue down.

Should I call 911 if someone is having a seizure?

Because seizures are alarming and look frightening, many people assume they should call for emergency help. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, call 911 if: 

  • Another seizure begins shortly after the first one.
  • It’s the person’s first seizure.
  • The person gets hurt during the seizure or is in water. 
  • The person has a health condition, such as diabetes or heart disease. Also, call 911 if a pregnant woman has a seizure. 
  • The person has trouble breathing or walking after the seizure.
  • The seizure lasts more than five minutes. 

If you’d like to learn more about first aid for someone with epilepsy, The Epilepsy Foundation offers seizure first aid certification.

For more information on seizure first aid, please visit: 

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