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Febrile Seizures: what to expect and what to do

More often than not, when a parent attends one of our award winning baby and child first aid classes, it is the first time they have ever heard of febrile seizures. Whilst we don't want to frighten parents, we feel it's better to be forewarned and forearmed. After all, if your child experiences a febrile seizure and you have never heard of them, it is likely to be an extremely distressing experience.  

What is a febrile seizure?

Febrile seizures (also known as febrile convulsions) are seizures that can happen when a child has a fever. Around 1 in 20 children will have at least one febrile seizure at some point. They most often happen between the ages of 6 months and 3 years, the age at which our body’s heat control system is rather amateur and we are unable to regulate our body temperature properly. Illnesses which bring on a fever such as chicken pox, flu, ear infections and tonsillitis are some of the more common causes of febrile seizures, although it’s important to remember they don’t usually cause seizures. Other infections associated with febrile seizures are urinary tract infections, gastroenteritis, pneumonia and bronchitis.

Medical professionals think there may be a genetic link when it comes to febrile seizures, as the chances of a child having them are higher if a close family member has a history of them. 

What happens during a seizure?

When a baby or child experiences a febrile seizure, their body goes stiff and twitches or jolts (sometimes violently), and during this time they will be unconscious. Sometimes the child will be sick, they may foam at the mouth and their eyes may roll back. They may also wet or soil themselves. The seizure usually lasts for less than 5 minutes.

After the seizure, your child might be sleepy for a while. A straightforward febrile seizure like this will usually only happen once during an illness.

Febrile seizures and epilepsy

A lot of parents worry that if their child has febrile seizures, they will develop epilepsy when they are older. Whilst it is true that children who have a history of febrile seizures have an increased risk of developing epilepsy, this increase is very small. If you have any concerns then talk to your GP.

How should you react to a febrile seizure?

  • As much as you can, stay calm and remember this is just the body’s way of coping with an unusually high temperature

  • Protect your child’s head from harm by padding around the head

  • Move hard items away that might hurt them

  • Do not move the casualty unless they are not in a safe place

  • Do not put anything in their mouth, including medicine or a thermometer, as this could cause injury or tongue biting

  • Ensure your child has a supply of fresh air

  • Stay with them and try to keep a note of how long the seizure lasts

  • Call 999 and ask for an ambulance, making them aware if you think the seizure has been caused by a serious illness like meningitis

  • Once the seizure is over, check that the child is breathing, and place your child on their side with their head tilted back (the recovery position)

  • If it is safe to do so, remove layers of clothing to reduce the temperature

  • Continue to monitor your child's breathing and wait for help to arrive

As your doctor will probably not have seen the seizure occurring, an account of what happened will be really useful. Ideally let your doctor know:

  • How long did the seizure last?

  • What happened e.g. twitching legs and arms, foaming at the mouth?

  • Did your child recover within an hour?

  • Have they had a seizure before?

While it is unlikely there is anything seriously wrong, it is nevertheless important to get your child checked over by medical professionals by alerting 999.

Maria Matthews is the owner of Mini First Aid Nottingham and Derby which offers award winning First Aid training for parents/carers, classes for children, and First Aid Industry body accredited workplace training.

Are you a parent or carer who wants to brush up on your First Aid skills? Why not attend one of our informal 2 hour baby and child first aid classes near you.

Visit to find out more.

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