Summer and water go hand in hand. All children like to play in water, yet swimming and other water activities hold an inherent risk for some children with seizures. Just like other safety tips, water precautions may vary depending on the type and frequency of the child’s seizures. However, all children with seizures, regardless of the seizure frequency or severity, should first talk to their neurologist about water safety. Some may be advised not to swim at all, whereas others may be allowed to swim with appropriate precautions and supervision.

Why the worry about swimming? People can drown if they have a seizure in water, even if they know how to swim. Children can drown in as little as an inch of water, or enough water to cover the nose if the child is laying face forward. Drowning can happen quickly and quietly, often not giving time to react after the fact. Prevention is key.

A few tips to consider…

  • Make sure that lifeguards know about your child’s seizures and any other health concerns.
  • Make sure all children with a history of seizures swim with supervision by someone who knows how to swim and provide emergency help.
  • Children with frequent seizures or seizures that impair consciousness may need 1-to-1 supervision and may not be allowed to swim in water that is over their head.
  • Some people recommend ‘reach supervision’ or having an adult within arm’s reach of the child at all times. This may not be needed for children with well-controlled seizures. Parents should ask the child’s neurologist for advice first.
  • Check all lifejackets and personal flotation devices – make sure they are intact and work properly.
  • Use of a lifejacket or personal flotation device is recommended for children in or near open bodies of water or during water activities. Remember that inflatable toys or ‘water wings’ are not flotation safety devices.
  • Children with seizures should always swim with a buddy.
  • Encourage your child to take swimming lessons.
  • Discourage diving into a river, lake or ocean.
Authored by: Steven C. Schachter | MD | Patricia O. Shafer | RN | MN
Reviewed by: Patricia O. Shafer | RN | MN | Joseph I. Sirven MD on 5/2014
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