Understanding Febrile Convulsions & its Basic First Aid

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A version of this Article was featured in our #Malaria Edition of HALA Magazine. FREE Download here!

During the early years of a child’s life, some Nigerian/African mums (actually any parent or care-giver) are likely to experience a turbulent situation that may arise in about 3% of children over the period of 6months – 6years. It is called a Febrile Convulsion.

The Golden Rule of Care-giving!

SAFETY RULES: If you live with a child <6 years old, it is wise to observe the following precautions

        i.            Get a (Digital) Thermometer (Fever = Body Temperature >37.40C)

      ii.            To reduce fever: Remove clothing; Tepid sponge or Bath the child; Give ONLY recommended dose of Paracetamol

   iii.            Visit the nearest healthcare facility immediately. All fevers in a child should be regarded as an Emergency!

First Aid on FEVER

What is Febrile Convulsion?

Febrile Convulsion is the scary experience of sudden convulsion/seizure in a child without a fall or any neurological problems e.g. meningitis. It classically occurs within 6 months – 6 years old children, and it typically occurs when there is a sudden rise in temperature (fever) >390C /1020F.

On many occasions, it happens without any other warning signs besides the fever itself, hence the name “Febrile” Convulsion. It is noted to be twice more common in boys than in girls

However, some children with a known history of neurological disorders like Epilepsy may have a higher tendency to experience febrile convulsions

Fever and Malaria

What Causes Febrile Convulsion?

Within the limits of current medical knowledge, there is no known direct cause.

It typically happens because the young developing brain is unable to adjust/regulate the sudden increase in temperature.

The most common precipitants/associated causes in our environment are from the most commonly occurring childhood infections such as:

  • Malaria,
  • Upper respiratory tract infections,
  • Pneumonia,
  • Middle Ear Infection, and
  • Gastroenteritis.

What does a Febrile Convulsion look like?

Some events characterize febrile convulsions and can appear really scary, such as:

  • A stiff body with twitching arms and legs
  • Loss of consciousness while the eyes may/may not remain open
  • Incontinence (self-wetting or soiling)
  • Vomiting or foaming at the mouth

Occasionally when basic 1st aid goes wrong, bad positioning may lead to irregular breathing and the skin may go pale or even turn blue briefly.

First Aid: What to do during a Febrile Convulsion?

As a loving parent or care-giver, it’s understandably a natural reaction to be frantic at the incidence of a febrile convulsion but it is very important to KNOW EXACTLY WHAT TO DO to avert further danger.

Here is a step-by step guide and basic First Aid for Febrile Convulsion:

  1. Stay calm but YELL for help and remain with your child throughout the convulsion episode
  2. Turn the child’s head to the left side to prevent choking from their tongue or saliva. Also keep the child lying on his/her side even after it has subsided
  3. Note the time the convulsion starts and ends
  4. Remove all surrounding harmful objects away from the child
  5. Make effort to reduce the child’s temperature by removing extra clothing and ensuring good ventilation.

In many ways, it is very much like basic First Aid for Seizures too.

What to NOT DO during a Febrile Convulsion

Conversely, there are many wrong and even harmful practices that you may have heard of too.

I’ll just mention a few of them and explain to help you understand the sharp contrast from the ideal practice as well as see how “unhelpful” many of these practices can be.

  • Cover the child with thick clothing or warm blankets: this will amount in further increasing the temperature and therefore, increase the risk of reoccurrence.
  • Places foreign objects such as a stick or a spoon in the child’s mouth: also, this is obviously of no help in any way but will rather cause more harm/injury in the mouth.

Other far reaching examples include:

  • Rubs pepper or onions on the child’s eyes.
  • Places child’s leg over fire or in hot water.
  • Turns the child upside down.

All of these kind of practices are actually very harmful.

What next after a Febrile Convulsion?

It is necessary for every child who has gone through this turbulent experience Febrile Convulsion to be examined and treated well by an appropriate health personnel (i.e. seek medical attention and advice) especially for children that fall into the following category:

  •   Those experiencing it for the first time.
  •   Those in which the episode lasted for more than 5minutes.
  •   Where the episode occurred in water with related difficulty in breathing.
  •   A child whose breathing remained abnormal even after convulsion ceased.
  •   A child with associated head injury as well.
  •   When safety and normal recovery cannot be certified for sure.

And a note of Encouragement!

As frightening as an episode of Febrile Convulsion may be, the vast majority of them are Harmless!

In other words, most cases of febrile convulsion will not result in anything to be worried about IF properly handled. 🙂

And you should also know that, one or two episodes of Febrile Convulsions in a child does not mean they have Epilepsy.


Do share your experience with us


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