Safety During an Epileptic Seizure

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woman having seizure

Seizures can be scary—for both the person having the seizure and those around them. You can prepare yourself ahead of time by learning basic seizure first aid.

The three main principles of this type of first aid are care, comfort and safety. In most cases, this is all that’s necessary to manage the situation. Know how to help when someone is having a seizure.

Stay calm.

The nature of seizures means they can be unpredictable. You may not know they are coming or how long they’ll last. Whether they take you by surprise or not, one of the main things to remember is to stay calm. Most seizures last only a few seconds or minutes. Staying calm will reassure the person having the seizure as well as others around you.

Remain with the person.

Remain with the person having the seizure until it‘s over and she’s alert again. The person may be frightened or confused and still need your assistance after it ends. For example, you may need to help them get to a safe place to rest and tell them the details of what happened. Children especially may need you to console them when it’s over.

Prevent injuries.

If possible, guide the person to a safe place to sit or help them to lie down. Move nearby objects—anything hard or sharp—out of the way. If you can’t move things, or the person is wandering, try to steer them away from danger and to safety.

Make the person comfortable.

Try to make the person as comfortable as possible. Put something soft—like a folded jacket or shirt—under the person’s head if he’s on the ground. Remove eyeglasses or loosen neckties if necessary. To ease breathing, turn him onto one side. This will let saliva drain out and keep it from blocking the person’s airway.

Discourage onlookers.

People will be curious and concerned about what’s happening. It’s smart to let someone stay with you to call for help if you need it. But encourage everyone else to back away and not crowd the person. Coming out of a seizure to a group of staring people can be embarrassing and confusing.

Check for medic alert jewelry.

Check the person’s wrist, neck and ankles for medic alert jewelry. It often lists emergency contacts and has instructions for how to help during a seizure. Or it may direct you to a wallet card with more information. This is key if you’re unfamiliar with the person’s seizures.

Understand what not to do.

Knowing what to avoid doing is just as important as knowing the actions to take:

  • Do not restrain the person. Trying to hold the person down will not stop the seizure and could injure them—or you. It could also add to their confusion or agitation.

  • Do not put anything in the person’s mouth. The idea of needing to bite on something during a seizure is a myth. During a seizure, clenching jaw muscles cause people to bite down. This can break foreign objects in their mouth, posing a choking hazard. Or they may break a tooth on the object.

  • Do not give them anything by mouth—pills, food, or a drink—until they are fully alert. Again, this is a choking hazard. The exception to this is a rescue medicine prescribed by a doctor. This type of medication is for use on an “as needed” basis to stop seizures from becoming an emergency. Examples include tablets you place under the tongue or between the cheek and gums.

Know when to call 911.

Most seizures don’t require emergency treatment or CPR rescue breathing. But there are situations when you should call 911:

  • The seizure lasts for five minutes.

  • Seizures happen one right after the other, and the person is not regaining consciousness.

  • The seizure happens in water.

  • The person is having trouble breathing or regaining consciousness.

  • The person is choking.

  • The person is injured during the seizure.

  • The person has another medical condition—such as pregnancy or diabetes—or asks for medical assistance.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Dec 8

  1. Care and Comfort First Aid. Epilepsy Foundation.

  2. Epilepsy. The Nemours Foundation.

  3. Making My Seizure Response Plan. Epilepsy Foundation.

  4. Seizure First Aid. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  5. Targeting Epilepsy. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

  6. Using Rescue Medications. Epilepsy Foundation.

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