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.
I remember every time they cover febrile convulsions in first aid and think to seizures I’ve seen – as first aider, regardless I’d be calling an ambulance, even though I know it’s not always required.
My reasoning there has always been that if it does last longer, then that extra minute could save the kids life.
I think sometimes we have a hesitancy to call an ambulance – like we’re bothering them. Personally I always err on the side of caution.
We haven’t experienced this but so good to read … and I would always call an ambulance if I was worried – there is nothing more important than our children.
Man that must have been so scary – I don’t think I would have trusted the person on the other end of the phone haha … thank you for writing this and sharing the knowledge <3
It’s definitely hard to trust them sometimes. The first one he had I took him to the hospital and the doctor was so rude I could have punched him. ‘Are you sure he wasn’t just shivering’? We go to a local child specific emergency room now and we find them much better.
I read this whole post in awe with my hand covering my mouth. I’ve got two children both under 4 and have NEVER heard of this! Not from the hospital, health care nurses or other mums, thank you for sharing this information. I completely agree with you, the conversation needs to be started.
It is definitely treated as something far more rare than it is. I also found that when I heard about it it was with an air that it only happened to parents who hadn’t treated a fever properly. We get so many conflicting messages as mothers!
What a terrifying thing to witness!
I’m sort of scaring myself now because I get really clinical about them. The first one I just remember bursting into tears and not knowing what to do. Now I act like I’m in a field hospital. You – call the ambulance. You – get your phone and time. Me – internally panic.
Great read, need more info out there so thanks!
Oh wow that must have been so scary for you. I didn’t know that febrile convulsions were so frequent in younger children too. Thank you for the information.
Honestly, neither did I. When a nurse told me that 1 in 25 statistic I had to go and check it, it just seems too big.
So scary! I’m blessed to never have witnessed one and I hope it always stays that way.
Such a great article and thank you for sharing the things to do and not to do. I never knew the thing about the cold bath so that is good to know. Thankfully I have never experienced this before but always so good to know information like this.
it was a bit of a shock to me too honestly! you sort of think, oh they are convulsing because they are hot, I’ll cool them down.
It is absolutely terrifiying. I thought my son was dying in my arms. But, he is perfectly fine and still enjoys telling the story of his ambulance trip to strangers. Great to inform others about this.
Yup sounds like my son. Has a seizure, wakes up in the ambulance and goes ‘DADAAAAAAAAA’ like he’s just done a trick.
Thanks for sharing this – more parents need to be aware because not knowing what it is and what to do makes things even more terrifying if you don’t know what’s going on. My daughter had a febrile convulsion nearly seven years ago now (when she was eighteen months) and our family day carer was so distraught (as were we but we didn’t actually see it as we were at work – but it went for over five minutes so the ambulance was called). Waiting at the hospital for the ambulance carrying our little girl was the longest wait. Thankfully it didn’t develop further, and she hasn’t had one since – our lovely carer was so very shaken up too, poor lady.
After speaking with nurses about it, I’m amazed at how it’s treated like something that will very almost never happen in first aid courses. Our daycare ladies told us that it was barely touched upon and bundled up with other type of seizures as something super rare.
Thank you for sharing this. I know it will be very helpful to so many.
Thank you 🙂
Oh my gosh that would be so horrible to see. I don’t think I could be stopped from immediately calling the ambulance. Amazing to read that 1 in 25 infants and toddlers will have one of these episodes.
I was so glad my mum was there for the first one. She’s seen them before in my nephew so she knew what to do straight away. I would have just frozen I think.
Great info in this post. I wish I had known this a year ago. My son had two in two days and they were the scariest moments of my life to date. I called an ambulance both times, with the first being the most heart-stopping moment. I had no idea what was happening. So scary! xx
It’s probably one of the worst feelings as a parent – just watching because there’s nothing you can do. I always felt so helpless. I also had no idea that it could happen to me. I hope your little one is doing better and hasn’t had one in a while.
That’s just so scary, Our Miss 8 had convulsions after slipping and hitting her head. I have never been more scared in my life!!
oh god, that must have been terrifying!
I will never forget the first time our son had a febrile convulsion . The feeling of helplessness as a parent is overwhelming. Such great information to share .
thanks so much. There’s so much I’ve learnt from nurses and doctors that I wish I’d known the first time.
My eldest daughter had on at18 months of age while we were driving in the car, scary as hell! I didn’t know what was going on and we ended up in hospital for a few days checking everything was OK. Thanks for this post!
I’ve only just witnessed my first car one. I think it was scarier than all the rest for sure!
Holy cow! I’ve heard of the term but never knew what it was and the stats you have shared. OMG, how did you cope? I would have lost my mind if that happened to my son out of the blue. Thank you so much for sharing this.
I was very lucky – his first happened when he was with my mum, so when I saw the second one later that night I was at least a tiny bit prepared. So grateful my mum knew what to do straight away.
A subject not spoken out much until you find you need to yourself I have found. My 18 year old has suffered numerous febrile episodes and then epileptic episodes and of course the rounds of scans, tests, therapy and numerous appointments over many years.
I have always followed my own gut feeling and pursued an issue until I felt happy with the outcome.
Your post is great to highlight this common issue and my suggestion would be to always acknowledge your gut feeling because you know your child best..
The medical roundabout of appointments and tests and things is so hard isn’t it? And doctors rarely listen to you when you try to tell them what’s wrong.
I remember crying in gratitude when our pediatrician said to us ‘even a first time parent is an expert in their own child – parental instinct is always the first step in a diagnosis’ Doctors don’t know what kids are doing when they are at home, so it’s really important for them to listen.
I remember seeing the photo when you were in the hospital. So sorry. I did know about febrile convulsions but fortunately did not experience with them with our kids nor have our grandkids (touch wood). I do hope there are better days and weeks ahead!
Thanks Denyse. Our little boy recovers from them quickly thank goodness and they don’t hurt his spirits one bit. He always sits up and flirts with the nurses at the hospital. Sadly he’s pretty comfortable there now.
Oh wow how terrifying! We’ve never had one but I witnessed a good friend’s baby have one and it was the scariest thing I’d ever seen. Some great info in this post!
Thanks so much!
That would have been so scary. It is terrible when things like this happen to your own kids. I felt helpless, and so nervous and scared of the unknown when my son was sick. Great information to share x