|By Adrian Sparrow
Seizures are unpredictable and can happen to anyone, anywhere. On average, 1 in 10 people will experience a seizure in their lifetime, which means you or somebody you know will see or have a seizure. About 3.4 million people have active epilepsy in the US, which means they’re currently taking medication for their epilepsy or they’ve had a seizure in the previous 12 months.
First aid for seizures is learning to identify possible seizure behavior and how to react appropriately to keep the person safe. Knowing how to recognize seizures and appropriately respond to them can help save a life.
Identifying a Possible Seizure
A seizure is simply a change in how the brain sends electrical signals. Different circumstances, such as blood sugar changes or high fever, can cause a seizure or similar non-seizure medical event. Brain injuries, alcohol or substance abuse, nutritional deficiencies, going without sleep for an extended period, and stress can all trigger certain seizures or increase the risk of one happening.
The way a seizure looks depends on the part of the brain affected and can cause subtle behaviors that are easily missed. Electrical disturbance in the frontal lobe can cause movement, behavior, or attention changes. In contrast, changes in the temporal lobe can cause the person to have a sudden feeling of dread or have unusual tastes or smells. Some seizures impact consciousness and cause confusion, while others occur while the person is fully awake and aware. A blank, dazed stare and repetitive, purposeless movements are other ways seizures can present. They can also appear as stiff limbs and jerking motions or floppy like a rag doll.
Stay with the person who is showing signs of a seizure. Speak calmly and reassure them. Time the seizure to see how long it lasts, and check to see if they’re awake, confused, or unconscious, and if there are changes in their speech or behavior. Look for a medical ID. Remember the early signs of the seizure and what happens during and after the seizure. Most seizures only last a few seconds or minutes. Stay with them throughout the entire seizure.
Don’t restrain a person who is having a seizure, who can become further agitated or aggressive. Instead, move or guide them away from harm and remove hard or sharp objects that could lead to further injury. If the person walks around, let them walk in an enclosed area. If the seizure occurs in a wheelchair, keep the wheelchair secure by securing the brake. If the body becomes rigid in this scenario, undo the seatbelt, gently guide them to the floor and call for help.
If they aren’t awake or aware of their surroundings, put the person on the floor, laying on their side. Loosen tight clothes around the neck. Put something soft like a cushion or jacket under the person’s head, and tilt the mouth down to prevent saliva from blocking their airway. Have people step back- waking up from a seizure to a crowd of onlookers can be embarrassing or hinder first aid efforts.
You might be tempted to put something in the person’s mouth. Contrary to popular belief, it is physically impossible to swallow your tongue during a seizure. Objects can break their teeth or block the airway, or the person could swallow them. Don’t put anything in a person’s mouth during a seizure, including food or water. Rescue medications can be given if prescribed by their healthcare provider.
While a seizure often only needs basic first aid, certain circumstances warrant calling for help. Call 911 if:
-The person doesn’t return to their usual state or is confused longer than normal
-Either a convulsive seizure or a seizure with a loss of consciousness lasts longer than 5 minutes
-The person is injured or has difficulty breathing
-Is pregnant or has other medical problems
Anybody experiencing their first seizure should seek medical attention. A seizure that happens when the person is alone or isn’t back to normal after the seizure also requires emergency care.
If a seizure ever occurs in the water, get them out as quickly as possible while keeping their head above water. Turn the person on their side with their mouth tilted downward, and follow CPR guidelines as necessary until medical help arrives.
After a seizure, it usually takes time for a person to feel back to normal. Some seizures can be followed by confusion, headache, nausea, fatigue, or difficulty with speech. Usually, all the person needs is some quiet space and a couple of minutes. Other times, such as when a person loses consciousness during a seizure, the person may need 15 to 30 minutes or longer to recover and clean up. Always stay with a person after a seizure and help them stay calm, or ensure they have a responsible party to look after them. Offer to call a friend or family member and ensure they have safe transportation.