Epilepsy Awareness Day – what to do if someone is experiencing an epileptic episode

March 26 is Epilepsy Awareness Day—otherwise known as “Purple Day.” People across the country sport the colour purple to inspire conversations about epilepsy. This made us wonder how many people really know what to do if they witness an epileptic episode?

There are plenty of resources that provide step-by-step instructions on what to do during, and after someone near you has an epileptic episode. However, there are a few surprising instructions that would go against almost everyone’s instincts.

In most cases, it’s not necessary to call 911.

Our first instinct in times of distress is to phone the authorities, without a second thought. However, for the majority of epileptic episodes it’s not necessary to engage emergency aid.

Ask yourself the following before picking up the phone:

  • Is this their first seizure?
  • Are they having difficulty breathing or waking after the seizure?
  • Is the seizure lasting longer than 5 minutes?
  • Did a second seizure shortly follow the first?
  • Did they fall or injure themselves in any way during the seizure?
  • Did the seizure happen in water?
  • Do they have any known health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, etc.?
  • Are they pregnant?

If the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes,’ call 911 immediately.

Time the seizure.The length of a seizure is important to measure. If it continues for too long, or seizures are occurring too frequently, the individual needs immediate medical attention. 

Don’t move them away from hazards, move the hazards away from them. Rather than slightly relocating their position, do your best to clear the surrounding space.

Help them down, don’t hold them there. Although it’s best to get the person lying safely on the ground, do not force their body to stay still. Guide their body into recovery position, cushion their head, and do your best prevent them from hurting themselves in the least forceful manner possible.

Keep them in the recovery position until they are calm. If you can get them there during the episode, that is ideal. If not, be sure to turn them on their side after the episode until the individual is calm and coherent.

Do not offer anything to eat or drink. After someone goes through a stressful experience, it’s almost second nature to offer them a glass of water. It is imperative you wait to do so until the individual is completely awake and aware of their surroundings.

Many of us are fortunate enough to have never experienced an epileptic episode, first or second hand. This makes Purple Day more important. We encourage you to take the time to understand what to do in these situations. One day, someone will thank you for it.