When a baby's fever turns serious: febrile seizures
Mum of two Jayde Eddy recounts how her 17-month old daughter went from 'a bit grizzly' to blue-lipped and not breathing in the space of a few hours.
My day on March 22 started out like most others: kindy and daycare drop-off, then off to work. When picking up my 17-month-old daughter Mia from daycare, the carers told me that she had been a bit grizzly, so we swung by the doctor to have her ears and throat checked, as she suffers recurring ear infections. The doctor gave her the all-clear, so we came home. So far, so normal. But that night, one hour after putting Mia to bed, a blood-curdling scream came from her bedroom. It took just seconds for my partner Matt and I to get to Mia’s room, and we found her lying on her side with her eyes rolled back, rigid and seizing in her bed. In another second I had her in my arms on her side, and was telling Matt to call an ambulance. My mind started whirring through the reasons this could be happening. Matt and I were both calm and focused - until Mia's lips started turning blue. (This is common in febrile seizures). A sickening panic set in and we both thought that we were going to lose our baby girl. Painfully long seconds passed, and she became completely still...then took a deep breath. Her eyes were still semi-rolled back and she seemed a bit confused; it was like she was trying to get back to sleep. The ambulance finally arrived, and they assessed her while she lay in my arms. A cool wet flannel to the head and hair helped soothe her back to sleep. The ambulance staff took her temperature and she was 38.3℃. This was confusing - I'd thought that extremely high temperatures caused seizures in children and Mia had been a lot warmer than 38.3℃ before. We wracked our brains trying to understand why our youngest daughter, who'd got the all clear from the doctor earlier that day, just randomly seized in her bed, seemingly for no reason. The ambulance crew could not find any obvious reason either, and they recommended we take Mia to the hospital to have bacterial infections ruled out. Thank goodness we had family living close by, who could look after with our eldest child who, incidentally, had witnessed most of the night's events, meaning Matt and I could both take Mia to the hospital. The ambulance staff kept using the word 'febrile'. I had no idea what that meant; Mia just looked drowsy to me. Once we got to hospital Mia’s temperature had risen to 39.6℃ and again I heard the word 'febrile' repeatedly. Apparently Mia was severely dehydrated, so it was our mission to syringe-feed her Pedialyte, to help bring her temperature down.
Febrile literally means having or showing the symptoms of a fever. A febrile seizure is a convulsion in a child that may be caused by a spike in body temperature (fever).
We were at the hospital with Mia for three and-a-half hours. A paediatrician told us that she had a raging ear infection in her right ear, and we've since learned that ear infections can come on incredibly fast. Once pneumonia and other bacterial infections were ruled out, the paediatrician was certain that Mia's sudden spike in temperature was caused by the ear infection and that this sudden spike triggered a febrile seizure. The paediatrician was incredibly kind and reassured us that these kinds of seizures are very common in young children, and shouldn't be confused with epileptic seizures. Febrile seizures have no lasting effects and last no longer than five minutes. So after four hours, and an ice block, our girl was back to her normal self as though nothing had happened - it was just poor Mum and Dad who were scarred by it all!
The week following the seizure was full of uncertainty and worry about whether Mia would have another seizure. Once a child has had one, there's a 50% chance they may suffer from another when their temperature spikes again. It's their little bodies' way of coping, because they haven’t yet learned to regulate their temperature. We had a paediatrician appointment and talked through what had happened, and were reassured that we'd done the right things and would continue to do so. The paediatrician was a great support and helped to calm the horrific image of my blue-lipped child in my head.
Mia has had two significant temperatures since her first febrile seizure. During the first we were incredibly vigilant but she didn't have a febrile seizure. We invested in a Braun ear thermometer to help us keep track of her temperatures and to calm our anxiety. Her second high temperature was three days of 39℃-40.3℃. Her little body spiked again, and she had another febrile seizure in her car seat. Matt was with Mia this time, and using the knowledge we had learned, he knew to completely strip her, get home as quick as he could, give pain relief, and try to get as much fluid in her as possible. Her febrile state only lasted half-an-hour this time, so he felt confident enough not to rush her off to hospital, and instead went to our GP that afternoon. It was another ear infection in the same ear, and she had tonsils full of pus. I feel so incredibly sorry for our brave little girl. To date she has had 15 ear infections, but as we are now back on the ear, nose and throat waiting list we're hopeful she won’t have to wait too long now!
As scary as febrile seizure sounds, we feel more confident and prepared now. They're still likely to happen until Mia’s body is ready to regulate her temperatures. It hasn’t consumed our lives, we carry on just like anyone else getting through our day, but we wanted to share our story in the hope that it might help even just one person.
For more information about febrile seizures you can visit these links: