Seizure First Aid

What do you do when you’re present during a seizure? Well, we have some specific advice depending on the seizure – and we’ll get to that, we promise – but if you remember even just these three things, you’re well on your way to providing the care and support needed.

First aid for seizures isn’t complicated: protect the person from harm when they aren’t able to do so themselves, and trust these three guidelines.

  1. Remain With the Person

Don’t go anywhere. While it’s important to be around to ensure nothing medically or physical happens, it’s also paramount that you’re there as a friendly, supportive face when the seizure ends.

  1. Do Not Restrain The Person

Your instincts will likely kick in and you’ll want to restrain the person. We get it – you’re just trying to help – but don’t. The only time that’s a good idea if there’s an imminent danger and there is no other alternative.

  1. Remain Calm

Easy to say, harder to do. But this is easily one of the most important things you can do for the person and everyone around you. Staying calm, recognizing what’s happening and responding appropriately to a seizure will reduce minimize its effect, prevent misunderstandings and protect the dignity of the person experiencing it.

The Recovery Position

If you’ve done any amount of first aid training – or maybe even babysitting training when you were a kid (ok, we’re stretching now!) – you’ll remember this position. Moving the individual into this position will allow fluids to drain from their nose and throat, meaning they aren’t inhaled. That’s good news. One thing, to remember though: do not use this position if you think a back or neck injury has happened.

When To Call An Ambulance

An uncomplicated seizure (convulsive or not) in someone who has epilepsy is usually not a medically emergency. In other words, stay calm because most seizures are self-limiting and naturally stop after a few minutes. In most cases, the person will be back to normal after a brief rest period. That said, there are some clear guidelines on when you should get to dialing 911:

  • If the person has no medical identification and you’re not sure if they have epilepsy
  • If the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes
  • If another seizure happens without a full recover or return to consciousness in between
  • If the person is pregnant, injured or another medical condition may be implicated
  • If consciousness does not return after the seizure

First Aid For Specific Seizure Types

Generalized Tonic-Clonic (Convulsive) Seizure

What to Do

  • Protect the individual from nearby hazards and move to a horizontal position if possible.
  • Protect the person’s head from injury. Place something soft, such as a sweater, under the head.
  • Time the seizure.
  • When the seizure has ended, turn the person onto their side in the recover position to keep their airway clear.
  • Reassure the person – speak in a calm and friendly manner.
  • Check time elapsed. If the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes, or if a second seizure begins without a recovery period in between, call for an ambulance.
  • Stay with the person until he/she is fully re-oriented. Use standard questions regarding name, place, etc. to help determine whether the person has regained awareness.
  • If possible, keep a blanket nearby in case bowel or bladder control is lost; this will help maintain privacy and dignity.

What Not To Do

  • Do not restrain the person’s movements.
  • Do not put anything in the mouth. It is impossible for the tongue to be swallowed.
  • Turning the person onto his or her side will keep the airway clear.
  • Don’t raise your voice or appear threatening.
  • Do not use artificial respiration or CPR unless breathing doesn’t resume after the convulsions have stopped.
  • Do not leave the person alone unless you are sure he or she is fully re-oriented or is in the care of another responsible individual.

Focal Impaired Awareness Seizure (Formally known as Complex Partial Seizure)

What to Do

  • Speak calmly and reassuringly.
  • Gently guide the person away from obvious hazards.
  • Stay with the person until she or he is fully re-oriented or in the care of another responsible individual.
  • Use standard questions regarding name, date, place, etc. to re-orient the person to his or her environment. This will let you know if he/she has regained awareness.
  • If confusion is prolonged, call for an ambulance.

What Not To Do

  • Do not restrain or interfere with the person’s movements.
  • Do not raise your voice or appear threatening.
  • Do not expect the person to respond to you during the seizure.
  • Do not interpret struggles or other behavior as consciously directed or aggressive.
  • Do not leave the person unassisted unless you are sure he or she is fully re-oriented or is in the care of another responsible individual.

Focal Aware Seizure (Formally known as Simple Partial Seizure)

What to Do

  • Observe behavior and provide reassurance if individual is frightened or confused.

Absence Seizure

  • Provide any missed information.
  • Provide a partner to assist the child in keeping up with in-class activities.
  • Provide reassurance if needed.

What Not To Do

  • Do not berate or disparage the child.


Atonic and Tonic Seizure

What to Do

  • Reassure the person and check for injuries.

Myoclonic Seizure

What to Do

  • Provide reassurance.