Febrile convulsions – they are as scary sounding as they are to look at.
Picture this. Your little person has been feeling a bit poorly with a cold or ear infection so you are giving them some extra snuggles. All of a sudden they go glazed and look right through you so you put them down to get a better look. Their eyes roll back, their body starts to spasm uncontrollably and their lips turn blue. You call an ambulance or your doctor and they tell you that the convulsions are terribly normal and to just keep an eye out. After what will seem like forever, your child stops and goes into a deep sleep.
You’ve just witnessed an episode of febrile convulsions. Did you know 1 in 25 children will experience one of these at some point before the age of 3? I’m not great at maths, but that works out to a hell of a lot of kids and yet it’s only ever mentioned as something that might happen in rare cases. Maybe we do this because we’re constantly told they aren’t harmful, so why bother worrying people. Maybe because they are scary as hell, one of the scariest things that a parent can witness and no-one wants to relive it. Either way, we need to start a conversation so here are some things I wish I’d known before I witnessed my first one.
What Causes Febrile Convulsions?
Febrile convulsions are not caused by the actual fever – but rather how quickly the child’s temperature rises. As parents this means sadly there isn’t a lot we can do to stop them from happening, as often the seizure is the first sign that your child even has a fever. Giving Panadol and Neurofen will help make your child more comfortable but won’t necessarily stop a fit from happening.
The susceptibility to them is often hereditary. If you, your partner or your parents have had them as a child, chances are your child will too.
What Happens During An Episode?
You will usually notice a few of these symptoms during febrile convulsions
- Stiffening of body
- Abrupt jerking movements of arms and legs
- Head and neck arch back and jerk
- Eyes rolled back
- Child is unresponsive
Following the fit, your child may be very tired and drop into sleep. An average seizure will last around 90 seconds. Your child should be reviewed by a medical professional as soon as possible following the seizure.
An important thing to note is these seizures do not cause lasting damage and are not necessarily an indicator of epilepsy.
When Should I Call An Ambulance?
If your child’s seizure goes for longer than 5 minutes, call an ambulance immediately. Most seizures are self limiting but some do require medication to stop. You should also call an ambulance if they’ve had more than one in a 24 period, or they are only jerking on one side of their body.
What To Do (And Not To Do)
DO put them on a safe surface where they can’t fall off or bang their head. Following the seizure, make sure to pop them in the recovery position on their side.
DO remove anything from their mouth, including dummies. They can bite down pretty hard during a seizure. Parents can return dummies once your child has awoken after the seizure.
DO touch your baby and offer reassurance. Regardless of how it feels at the time they can hear you and it helps them through it.
DO time the seizure. They always feel longer than they actually are, so this lets you get an accurate picture for doctors. If there is another person in the room who isn’t calling emergency services, taking a video of your child on your phone can also be helpful – you can show it at the hospital to assist medical staff which can save you from having to go over the details repeatedly.
DO get them reviewed by your GP or a hospital as soon as you can. If they have any of the abnormal symptoms above, call an ambulance to take them straight to an emergency room.
DON’T put them in a bath or use cold compresses during or after an episode. These can cool them too quickly and prolong the seizure.
Where To Go For More Information
Googling febrile convulsions can be pretty scary – there’s a lot of misinformation and fear mongering out there on the internet. Below are some great reputable links that really helped me. They are NOT a substitute for medical opinions, but they will help you get a bit more information.