Many “green” parents are slow to use popular medicines to treat their children’s illnesses, believing strongly in the power of both natural alternatives and the self-healing abilities of the body, along with being wary of the possible side effects of many over-the-counter medicines. Fever, however, is one of those things that shouldn’t be dallied with. In younger children especially, fever can suddenly spike causing a febrile seizure, a very frightening experience.
A febrile seizure is a convulsion in young children, generally caused by a rapidly increased fever, but sometimes caused by infection. This quick jump in body temperature is more than little brains can process, and the result is a seizure in which the child loses consciousness and shakes. These seizures, which usually happen in children between 6 months and 5 years old, are considered harmless and last for a matter of minutes. However, the experience will seem to last an eternity to an uninformed parent going through it for the first time, as fears of brain damage, impending death, choking and a sense of powerlessness invade the senses.
You can reduce the likelihood of your child having a febrile seizure by paying close attention to whether he has a fever when sick, and immediately administering a fever-reducing medicine (such as acetaminophen) at the appropriate dosage and consistent intervals. While cool compresses, beverages, or holding a child wrapped in a cool towel can help provide relief to your child, the fever needs to be brought under control in a way that only medication can do.
Sometimes these seizures happen early in an illness, before you realize a child has a fever. If your child has a febrile seizure, according to the National Institutes of Health, you should:
1. Stay calm and carefully observe the child.
2. Place the child on a protected surface such as a blanket on the floor or ground in order to prevent accidental injury. Don’t hold or restrain the child during a convulsion.
3. The child should be placed on his or her side or stomach to prevent choking. If any objects are in the child’s mouth, they should be gently removed.
4. Never place objects in the child’s mouth during a convulsion; these can be broken and obstruct the child’s airway.
5. If the seizure lasts longer than ten minutes, the child should be taken immediately to the nearest medical facility. (I respect this recommendation, but when it happened to my first child at the age of three, I immediately called a firefighter who lived in my apartment building and then called 911.)
6. Once the seizure has ended, take the child to his or her doctor to find the source of the fever, especially if the child shows symptoms of stiff neck, extreme lethargy, or abundant vomiting.
Many children who have a febrile seizure only suffer the experience once. Once a child has had a febrile seizure, parents are advised to monitor and manage future fevers diligently with medication and to watch for early warning signs such as rolling eyes or tremors until the child reaches the age of 6 years.