By Lisa Marinelli Smith
Summer activities and temperatures can cause an added element of unpredictability for those with epilepsy.
They and their loved ones should be mindful of factors that can trigger seizures and plan to be able to get to a safe environment if they occur. Having a friend or family member aware of your condition who can help, if needed, is one of the most important safety measures you can take.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
Swimming and seizures
Please speak to your neurologist about swimming if you haven’t addressed the topic before. Depending on the frequency of your seizures, your doctor may advise you not to swim.
If you do get the green light, be sure that someone is with you when you swim – whether you have epilepsy or not. Your swimming buddy should know that you have epilepsy and be strong enough to pull you to safety if you have a seizure. The American Red Cross recommends using the “reach” system – making sure someone is within “reach” at all times.
Other swimming precautions:
- Pools/open water: Pools are safer than open water. Hazards in open waters include tides, rip currents, sudden depth changes and less supervision by lifeguards. If a person has a seizure in open water, it may be harder for someone to notice and get to you quickly. Pools with lifeguards are your safest scenario, of course.
- Life jackets: Wear a life jacket for water activities, including boating, water skiing, canoeing, paddleboarding and rafting. Be sure your life jacket fits well and works properly. Having it next to you doesn’t help. You need to have it on while doing these activities.
- Scuba diving: Because of the risk of having a seizure underwater, it’s not safe to scuba dive if you have epilepsy. Having a seizure underwater can be life-threatening.
Summer temperatures and seizure risk
Extreme summer temperatures can increase the risk of seizures for those with epilepsy. Here are some tips to stay cool and reduce your risk but still enjoy all that summer has to offer:
- Hydrate: As you sweat, you increase your chances of dehydration. Dehydration can cause changes in your brain and this can trigger a seizure. As we sweat, we also lose sodium. Our brain needs sodium to balance electrical activity. A change in the brain’s electrical activity leads to seizures. When exercising, drink before, during and after the workout. Avoid alcohol and caffeine because they increase the risk of dehydration.
- Limit sun and heat exposure: Just as you protect your skin from the strongest UV rays and limit exposure, plan activities during cooler times of the day.
- Listen to your body: If you feel weak, dizzy or thirsty, get out of the heat and into the shade. Drink water and let someone know how you feel.
Theme parks and epilepsy
What’s summer without a trip to the theme park? Just like swimming, please speak to your neurologist about safety concerns specific to your condition. You may be able to identify types of rides that could pose more seizure risk.
For some, the excitement or stress from rides, noise, or crowds may be enough to trigger a seizure.
- Medical ID bracelet: Your doctor (or parent) may recommend you wear a medical ID bracelet that would let bystanders know you have epilepsy if something were to happen. Just like swimming, it’s best to go with someone who knows you have epilepsy and can help you if you need it.
- Photosensitivity: Flashing, strobe lights like you may find on rides and attractions can trigger seizures in photosensitive people. Read signs about the ride before you get on it.
- First aid station: Find the first aid station on a map or in person so you or the people you are with can get you help if needed.
- Hydrate: It’s easy to get distracted when you’re having fun, but please make it a point to hydrate.
Stay on top of seizure medications
All of us take a vacation from our everyday routines when we’re away relaxing or busy on an adventure. For anyone, whether you have epilepsy or not, remembering to take medication can fall out of your scan. We may lose track of time or oversleep.
- Time zones: If your trip involves jumping time zones, get help from your health care provider to determine how to adjust your medication schedule.
- Transporting medication: Pack meds in your carry-on if you’re flying, so it’s handy whenever you need it and avoid the risk of your suitcase (and medicine) arriving later than you do.
- Refills: Check on your supply of pills well before you go out of town to make sure you have time for a refill, if needed.
- Travel insurance: If you’re traveling overseas, be sure to look into your health insurance coverage.
- Set reminders: Set an alert on your phone to remind you to take your medication on time.
- Sleep: Inadequate sleep can trigger seizures. You may be tempted to stay out late and then get up early to see the sunrise, but that would not be wise. Get the sleep you need to stay healthy.
Vacations are good for your mind, body and spirit. We all need time away to decompress and escape our real lives for a bit. So make smart choices, as they say, and have a blast!