The terrifying night our child had a febrile convulsion

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

When our child started convulsing we had no idea what was happening and it was terrifying. One minute she was on the couch with a fever and the next she was having a seizure.

My husband held her in his arms. I will never forget the look of terror on his face as he gently spoke her name. My baby was there, but she was distant, unaware of what was happening. Her eyes were empty as her tiny body repeatedly shook. It was a moment we all hope to never experience again.

With our two younger children by my side, I quickly encouraged them to follow me, so they wouldn't be frightened, and I rang the ambulance.

I remember being on the phone to the emergency operator while they talked calmly to me, detailing where the ambulance was and explaining to me that is was coming as fast as it could. "Sirens and lights flashing," the woman told me.

It's like time stood still.

By the time ambulance officers arrived our five-year-old girl had stopped shaking and her eyes were slowly focusing again. They asked if she had epilepsy, to which we replied "no" and then bundled her into the ambulance to take her to hospital for tests and monitoring. It was there she underwent a range of tests to see if there was any damage and to try and figure out what had caused her to convulse.

She stayed overnight, my husband by her side in a little cot bed, and they kept a close check on her.

Luckily, she was ok and further testing showed no damage and no signs of epilepsy or other medical conditions.

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It was determined that she'd had a febrile convulsion – something we'd never heard of before, but is a condition that can impact children who have high fevers.

According to the Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne, febrile convulsions, or seizures, were caused by a sudden change in a child's temperature. They most commonly happen to children aged between six-months-old and six years, and while upsetting to watch, were not harmful.

Assistant Clinical Director at House Call Doctor, Dr Ryan Harvey said febrile convulsions were caused by a rapid change in a child's temperature.

"Febrile seizures are experienced by children - but they are not common," Dr Harvey said.

"Children typically have them because their body is learning to regulate temperature.

"They occur when the internal temperature of a child is high and results in a temporary limited seizure."

He said most seizures could not be prevented.

"A febrile convulsion results in uncontrollable muscle spasms as a consequence of the heat or internal temperature from illness," Dr Harvey said.

"Keeping cool can be a prevention, but most febrile seizures are not preventable."

If your child does have a febrile convulsion, it's important to remain calm. Place them on a soft surface, laying on their back or side. Do not put anything in their mouth, or restrain your child. And don't put them in a bath to try and cool them down. It's also important to time the seizure and monitor exactly what happens so you can describe it to your doctor.

Knowing first aid is key and, remember, your child is not in pain while the seizure is occurring.

"Create a safe space and seek medical help," he said.

"In a true seizure or convulsion, the individual is unaware of the event occurring.

"Most seizures last less than a minute."

It's important to seek immediate medical advice whether that's your local GP or emergency department.

In rare cases, the convulsion may be a result of something other than temperature changes.

"Convulsions more rarely may represent epilepsy, structural abnormality of the brain, a brain tumour or potentially a metabolic disorder," he said.

"A first off seizure in the settling of a high temperature in a child may warrant no blood tests, however, if symptoms suggest a worse pathology, then blood tests and CT/MRI scans may be warranted."