Epilepsy is more common than you might guess—1 in 26 people will be diagnosed during their lifetime—and seizures can occur for other reasons too. In total, 1 in 10 people will have a seizure at some point in their life. Here’s what to do if you’re there when it happens, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.
The three words to remember are: Stay, Safe, Side.
Stay with the person
You saw the seizure start, or perhaps you found the person after the seizure had begun. Stick with them to make sure they’re safe, and so that you can tell them (and maybe first responders) what happened. Time the seizure if you can, and call 000 if it lasts more than five minutes.
Stay calm, and speak reassuringly so that they recover to a friendly voice. In the meantime, check if the person has medical ID (either on their phone or by another means like a medic alert bracelet).
Keep them safe
A person having a seizure can become injured if they fall or if they hit something, so make sure they’re in a safe environment. If they are walking or wandering around, steer them to safety. If they seem likely to fall, gently lower them to the ground if you can do that safely. Try to clear the area of furniture, sharp objects, or anything that may pose a danger.
Nobody wants to wake up surrounded by a crowd, so flag down a bystander or two in case you need help, and disperse the rest.
Do not hold the person down
That won’t stop the seizure, and could make them more likely to hurt themselves or others. The foundation notes: “People don’t fight on purpose during a seizure. Yet if they are restrained when they are confused, they may respond aggressively.”
And definitely do not put anything in their mouth
There’s a myth that a person can swallow their tongue; that’s not going to happen. They might bite their tongue, which can be painful, but putting anything in their mouth to prevent that will do more harm than good. They could break a tooth, or swallow the object. It’s not safe to give food, water, or medications, either.
Roll them onto their side
If the person is not awake and aware, make them comfortable. The foundation suggests loosening tight clothing and putting something soft under their head. Turning the person onto their side, mouth pointing downward, can prevent saliva from blocking their airway and make it easier to breathe.
What to do afterward
The person may be confused, scared, or embarrassed when they wake up. Tell them what happened, and offer to stay with them until they can get home or call a friend. If you call 000, stick around to help.
According to the Epilepsy Foundation, these are the signs that you need to call for emergency help:
Seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes
Seizure occurs in water
Person is injured, pregnant, or sick
Person does not return to their usual state
The person asks for medical help
There are different types of seizures, and the best response to each may be slightly different. Some people may carry a rescue treatment. But if you don’t know what’s going on, only that the person is having a seizure, the tips here are a good rule of thumb. As in any emergency, seek medical help if you’re concerned that the person is in danger.