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What to do if your child has a febrile convulsion

Baby crying in mother's arms with a feverFebrile convulsions in young children are traumatic – and more common than you’d think.

It is important to understand what is happening, and why you need to be alert, not alarmed.

Read through the causes, treatments, symptoms, and course of action you should take if your child were to have a febrile convulsions or seizure.

A mother is taking care of her six-month-old daughter, who is unusually grumpy. The mother takes her baby’s temperature, which confirms that her baby has a fever.

The thermometer made the baby uncomfortable, and she is now crying non stop. The mother tries to settle her daughter by feeding her, however the baby refuses to feed. In this instance the mother does what most mothers would do: she tries to comfort her baby by holding her close to her body.

Suddenly, her baby stops crying. Initially, the mother breathes a sigh of relief. This relief, however, suddenly turns to alarm at the highest level when the mother realises that her little baby’s eyes have rolled back in her head and she is shaking – she’s having a fit! The mother panics and does what all inexperienced mothers probably would do, which is to hold her closer in an attempt to try to stop her from shaking.

By now the mother is in total panic mode. Not knowing what to do next, she runs next door to her neighbour. She is screaming and her little baby is convulsing. The absolute panic that the mother is experiencing stems from her terror that her child is going to die right here in her arms – or at the very least, suffer brain damage. This scenario depicts a nerve-racking and traumatic experience, doesn’t it?

Actually, it’s extremely alarming how common a scenario this is. Unfortunately, parents and carers know relatively little about the phenomenon that affects around one-third of all children – the febrile convulsion (a fit as a result of a fever).

It’s important to realise that even a slight amount of knowledge about febrile convulsions will immediately help to put a parent’s mind at ease. Knowledge is power, and information about this phenomenon can help a parent to handle the situation calmly.

What causes febrile convulsions?

Febrile convulsions are normally associated with a fever, although they can occasionally occur in particularly hot circumstances, when the child is otherwise healthy. The convulsion has more to do with how quickly the child’s temperature increases, rather than how hot their temperature is.

A febrile convulsion, although extremely traumatic for a parent or carer to witness, is relatively harmless. In the vast majority of cases no harm results, and if it does, this is more likely to relate to the illness the child is fighting rather than the effects of the convulsion.

Treating the Fever

A fever is our body’s way of fighting off an illness. Follow these tips to caring for your little one:

  • Look out for symptoms such as difficulty in awakening or having the appearance of being “floppy” or in pain (especially around the neck and spine area). If you feel you need medical intervention (pay attention to your instincts!), seek it out immediately.

Other common symptoms of a fever include:

  • Loss of appetite, tiredness, irritability, and being unusually “cuddly”. Your baby will feel hotter to touch than normal. Feel the back of their neck, which is usually more consistent than the forehead.
  • Use a thermometer to check your child’s temperature. One important tip is to keep a fresh set of batteries for your digital thermometer.

Note that a fever is not normally classified as dangerous until it reaches 42˚C, though it’s recommended not to allow it to get that high.

  • Remove outer layers of clothing so your baby is wearing only a singlet and nappy (or underpants). Dress them enough so that they are not shivering
  • Remove your bub from any source of heat.
  • Don’t cuddle your baby as your own body heat will raise theirs, very quickly. You can reassure your baby by holding their hand, stroking their head or lying next to them. If lying next to the baby, leave a little space between you both.
  • It is NO LONGER recommended to sponge down your baby with tepid water or fan a child with a fever.
  • Make sure you seek medical advice before using any medication at all (such as Panadol).
  • Don’t use any eucalyptus product. This includes rubs or inhalers. (For further information call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26.)
  • If in doubt about anything at all, see a doctor immediately.

Handling a Febrile Convulsion

First of all, remember that febrile convulsions will only usually last between a few seconds to a couple of minutes. They are common and your child will usually be OK. Febrile convulsions can be extremely distressing for a parent but it’s very important that you remain calm as this will help to keep your baby calm.

  • If in doubt, call 000 for an ambulance. If you do experience panic, don’t drive as you will not be able to focus on the road.
  • Try not to move your child while they are convulsing (unless they are somewhere dangerous when it happens, such as the bath). If they’re in your arms, lay them down on a cool surface that isn’t too hard and somewhere they cannot fall from. Place something soft, like a pillow, under their head. If the child is near a heater, turn it off and open a window. If they are outside in the sun, try to shade them.
  • Do not place your child in a cool bath. This can be extremely dangerous. The child might have a fit in the bath and inhale the water, which can lead to drowning. Another reason for not doing this is that your child’s temperature may decrease too dramatically, which can also be bad.
  • If your child is banging against a wall during the convulsion, don’t move them. Instead, place something soft (such as a cushion) between them and the wall to prevent injury.
  • Do not put anything in the child’s mouth, including water or medication. The child will not swallow their tongue, but could easily choke if anything is put into their mouth.
  • Do not try to restrain the child. No amount of restraint will stop the shaking, however trying to restrain them could easily cause an injury.
  • It’s important to understand that having a convulsion is exhausting. Therefore, once it is over your child will most likely want to sleep. If your child cries and appears a bit dazed afterwards, this is normal.
  • Following a convulsion, make sure your child is breathing normally – as though they’re asleep. Roll them onto their side, into the recovery position.
  • See a doctor or wait for the paramedic.

So, What Now?

Every day, parents or carers ring 000 because they don’t have the information to hand that would enable them to handle their child’s febrile convulsion. If a parent has the correct facts at their fingertips, for example, how common and non-dangerous febrile convulsions are, they would stress less – and know how to handle the situation. To find out more, book into a first-aid course, particularly one based solely on baby and child first aid.

Note: The information above is provided as a reference only. For all emergencies, seek medical advice or call 000 for emergency assistance.

– this article was written by Michelle Fiddian, first-aid trainer, and supplied by My Child magazine

Image credit: domenicogelermo/123RF Stock Photo

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2 comments so far -

  1. My son had first attack of convulsion when he was 15 months old…As it was very new to us, we were panicked n immediately we took him to the doctor…my son had a throat infection…we need a proper guidance from the doctors at this stage on how to prevent future attacks n causes etc….Very few doctors would have so much patience to educate the parent… Our child is normal n don’t treat them as a special child….things would be normal after certain amount if time….Be very cautious when a child has a fever..

    • My youngest son had a set of 5 febrile convulsion at 13 mnths old. The 1st one lasted for almost 7 minutes. He had another 4 in the ambulance and the hospital they were shorter ones. I went into shock, where as my husband went into rescue mode. I felt exactly how the story said, i thought my baby was dying in front of me. I am now better educated on what it is and understand better. He has not had another since that day and hope he never has another.



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