A young mother rushed into the clinic, screaming ‘save my child’. She was carrying a 1 year boy who was convulsing, frothing at the mouth (with tinge of blood) and eyes turned upwards.
The team got into action; took the child from her and put him on the couch turned on his side with head slightly extended (looking upwards).
Image Source: http://www.nationwidechildrens.org/febrile-seizures
This was done to ensure that child’s airway is patent and is not blocked by his sputum/ phlegm or secretions. Extending the head also ensures that child’s (victim’s) tongue does not fall back and choke him/ her. The child was disrobed and full body sponging began with tap water (room temperature). Within few seconds the convulsion stopped. The child was still listless but became normal within 12-15 minutes
This child did not have epilepsy, but a febrile seizure (fever fit)!
As the name suggests, it is a convulsion that occurs only during high grade fever and hence known as febrile (fever) convulsion (fit).
Febrile convulsion is one of the commonest disorders of childhood. It commonly occurs between 6months to 5yrs of age.
Why do they occur?
In our brain there is a thermostat (for regulating body temperature) called Hypothalamus. This hypothalamus is not fully developed till age of 5. At times, due to sudden rise in temperature the thermostat trips (compare with one of the electrical appliances used at home tripping and causing a fuse burnout at home) and this tripping results in febrile convulsion.
Does febrile convulsion turn into epilepsy when child grows up?
Absolutely NO! Many children get only one episode; even those who get repeated episodes grow out at around 5 yr – when the thermostat is fully developed and can handle temperature variations.
What should a parent/ care taker do if a child has a febrile convulsion?
- First and foremost – DO NOT PANIC! Do not think that the child is going to die the next moment because though the whole episode is very scary to witness, most of the convulsions are innocuous and are not likely to cause any harm to the child.
- Lay the child on one of his side which will prevent the swallowing of the secretions, vomit and even tongue falling back and choking the child and allow the child to breathe freely.
- Always remember NEVER to put anything in the child’s mouth;not even medicines at the time of the fits because the child will not be able to swallow it and he may bite the tongue in the process.
- Do NOT forcibly restrain the child – you will not be able to stop the fit just by holding the child tightly. It may even hurt the child.
- Start full body sponging to bring down the fever.
- Child should be taken to the nearest doctor for the management.
Dr Chander Asrani, is a post-graduate in Family Medicine. He has over 37 years in family practice and has been offering wellness and disease management services to corporates. He is soon to launch virtual clinics. He writes on various subjects of wellness; learning to live with chronic ailments and stress. Know more about him at about.me/drasrani.