Febrile seizures: What parents need to know about rare childhood seizures after Jamie Otis shares video of son

Febrile seizures can impact infants and toddlers, though they're uncommon.

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Jamie Otis and husband Doug Hehner's son used to struggle with febrile seizures. Here's what that means. (Instagram/ @jamienotis)
Jamie Otis and husband Doug Hehner's son used to struggle with febrile seizures. Here's what that means. (Instagram/ @jamienotis)

Influencer and former reality star Jamie Otis recently shared an update on her son's febrile seizures. And while a baby seizing is a valid reason to worry, a Canadian expert says they're usually not dangerous.

In an Instagram video, the "Married At First Sight" alum shared a video of her son Hendrix experiencing a seizure — a video she took to show her baby's doctor. She paired the post with a caption on how she handled finding out about febrile seizures.

"Hendrix had a fever and his 'mouth' hurt. Every time he has a fever I check him constantly. I swear I have PTSD from when he'd have a fever and then seize up," Otis admitted.

"These 'febrile seizures' (as the doctors call them) began happening when my son was about [one]. He'd get a fever (no matter how low or high) and then he'd seize. It'd usually happen after we gave him medicine to control his [temperature], but not always."

Otis said she's lucky to be a registered nurse and be able to recognize a seizure, though it didn't make it easier. "I never saw a seizure in an infant or child before my own son was laying on me convulsing and drooling while his eyes stared blankly at me," she shared.

It was by far the scariest thing I've ever gone through as a mommy.Jamie Otis (via Instagram)

The mom-of-two explained it happened fast, and by the time they reached the ER, her son seemed "fine" and she struggled describing to doctors exactly what happened. That's why she began filming these seizures.

Otis was told by doctors these seizures are normal and something her son will "grow out of." In last week's post, she happily shared three-year-old Hendrix has now been seizure-free for a year. The influencer added she decided to share the scary clip to help other mothers who may be going through this.

But what exactly are febrile seizures and can they have long-term consequences? Yahoo Canada spoke with Dr. Katie Gardner from the division of pediatric emergency medicine at IWK Health in Halifax.

Read on for everything you need to know.

What are febrile seizures?

Mother with Son in Hands Visit Pediatrician for Consultation, Doctor Checkup or Vaccination. Friendly Practitioner Greeting Patient at Flat Cartoon Hospital Reception. Vector Illustration
Febrile seizures occur in children between six months and six years of age. (Getty)

Febrile seizures are seizures that occur while a child is sick with an illness and usually a fever, Dr. Gardner explained, adding it's most commonly a virus, ear infection or urinary tract infection.

They generally occur in children between six months and six years of age.

"A typical febrile seizure looks like jerking movements of the arms and legs, stiffness of the body, and eyes rolled back," she said in an email.

It's normal for the child to not be able to respond during the seizure. "They are brief (30 seconds to two minutes) but can last longer — and feel much longer."

Gardner explained children can be sleepy following a febrile seizure, "but usually return to normal behaviour within a couple of hours of the seizure."

What are the risks associated with febrile seizures?

Febrile seizures impact just three to five per cent of children in Canada, though they are the most common cause of seizures in children.

According to the pediatrician, about one third of children who have one febrile seizure will have another one in the future.

However, "there are no particular things that predict whether a child will have a first febrile seizure," Gardner said.

Despite the scary appearance, febrile seizures "do not cause any damage to the brain" and "children who have had a febrile seizure are expected to develop normally," she explained.

"There is a slightly higher risk of developing epilepsy compared to children who have not had a febrile seizure, but the risk is still low."

What signs can new parents look out for?

You can't predict a febrile seizure, but children should be assessed after having one. (Getty)
You can't predict a febrile seizure, but children should be assessed after having one. (Getty)

Gardner said "seizures usually occur without warning," so there's not much parents can do to prevent them.

She assured febrile seizures are "uncommon and do not cause any permanent damage." However, the doctor added it's normal to worry.

It is very normal to feel scared when witnessing a seizure.

Seizures cannot be prevented with medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, she explained, but they can "continue to be used for comfort during typical childhood illnesses."

What to do if your child is having a seizure

Gardner said there are first aid steps you can take if you think your child is having a seizure. These include:

  1. Ensure your child is in a safe place and clear the area of items that could injure them.

  2. Roll them on their side on a flat surface and do not put anything in their mouth.

  3. Look at a clock or ask someone close by to time the seizure. Call an ambulance if a seizure is lasting more than three to five minutes.

"Paramedics can treat a seizure with medication if it is lasting longer than five minutes, but most febrile seizures stop on their own," she explained.

While medications exits, they are not typically used for febrile seizures because "the side effects of the medications usually outweigh the benefit of trying to prevent a future febrile seizure."

After a seizure, a child should be assessed by a doctor, Gardner advised.

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