Summer Safety for People with Seizures
Epilepsy News From: Wednesday, July 11, 2018
Summer! School is out and families look forward to spending time together enjoying the warm weather and outdoor activities. You may be relaxing at home this summer, making new friends and building skills at a camp, or traveling the world chasing adventure. Whatever activities you choose, take time to think about keeping everyone healthy and safe.
Epilepsy impacts each person differently. It is important to consider seasonal health and safety issues that people with seizures may have. Advanced planning is key. What kind of support do you need? What changes or modifications may be needed for the type of activities you'll be doing? Take time to consider:
- Seizure type
- Seizure frequency
- Treatment for seizures (medications, diets, devices)
- Seizure triggers
- Individual abilities
- Ability to think and respond following a seizure
- Potential need for access to timely emergency or hospital care
Take a moment to read more below about strategies to help keep you safe while enjoying summer activities.
Swimming and Water Sports
Swimming and water sports are a great way to relax, refresh, have fun, and exercise! Being in and around water requires safety precautions for everyone, including someone who has seizures. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are approximately 10 drowning deaths in the United States each day. Water safety tips include:
- All adults and children with epilepsy, regardless of seizure frequency or severity, should speak to their neurologist about water safety. Some may be advised not to swim at all. Others may be allowed to swim and participate in water activities with precautions and supervision.
- Learn to swim! If your doctor has ok'd water activities and you enjoy being in or around the water, then become a strong swimmer.
- Swim with a friend or family member who is familiar with your seizures and is strong enough to help you. If you have a seizure in water, you’ll need someone able to hold your head out of the water during and after the seizure.
- Adults must closely supervise children around water.
- If possible, swim in a designated area (pool or roped off area of open water) supervised by a lifeguard. Tell the lifeguard you have epilepsy and what should be done if you have a seizure.
- Avoid swimming when you are tired or don't feel well.
- Swimming in the ocean, or other open water, is not as safe as swimming in a pool. In the ocean there are currents, tides, sudden changes in water depth, and colder water temperatures that can lead to problems. Every person, including those with epilepsy, needs to be aware of their surroundings and take extra care in open bodies of water.
- If a person has a seizure in open water, it may be harder for someone to see that you are having a seizure or to get to you quickly.
- Wear a life jacket for all water activities, including boating, water skiing, rafting and fishing. Check all life jackets and personal flotation devices to make sure they fit well and work properly.
- If a person has a seizure in water and is not fully aware or conscious, this can be a life-threatening situation. Even if the person appears to fully recover, call an ambulance (911) as the person requires a full medical evaluation.
- Plan time to learn CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), especially if you plan to spend plenty of your summer in and around water. In the time it takes for paramedics to arrive, CPR skills could save someone's life.
Riding a bicycle is a great way to spend time outdoors, commute in the nice weather, and get in some healthy exercise. If you have seizures, depending on the type and severity, some safety tips include:
- Every person who rides a bicycle should wear a helmet and reflective clothing.
- Choose the safest route. It may be better to avoid cycling on busy roads and instead enjoy the safety of a dedicated bike path.
- Share your planned biking route with someone before going out, especially if you are biking alone. Carry a phone, smart watch, or other device with a GPS tracking feature.
- Remember to drink water and stay well hydrated on long rides.
- For long rides, plan ahead so you can take your seizure medication at the regular scheduled time.
- Speak with your neurologist or nurse about your plans to cycle. Ask for advice about safety and how to avoid risks based on your seizure history.
Taking a summer vacation is something many people look forward to. It is important to plan in advance how you will manage seizures while traveling. Depending on your seizure type, preparing for travel may include:
- Speaking with your doctor or nurse about adjusting dosage times for medications in different time zones.
- Knowing the regulations for transporting medications (particularly when bringing liquid formulations on a plane).
- Depending on the type of travel and the length of your trip, you may need a note from your doctor about carrying medicines with you.
- Making plans in advance to avoid disruption in sleep schedules. If you know it is impossible for you to rest on a plane, avoid long, overnight flights. Or speak with your doctor about a sleep medication to help you get enough rest while you travel.
- Prepare ahead with the appropriate travel insurance in case you need medical care while traveling.
Summer can bring extreme temperatures. Some people with epilepsy may be sensitive to heat. Staying cool is important. Considerations for staying cool in warm weather include:
- Limit sun and heat exposure. Plan activities in the early morning or late afternoon and evening. This helps you avoid the warmest temperatures in the middle of the day.
- Dress in lightweight and light-colored clothing.
- Drink water before, during, and after physical activity to help keep your body temperature cool.
- When temperatures are high, spend time in buildings with air conditioning, such as museums, indoor playgrounds, libraries, or shopping centers.
- If a person has extreme heat intolerance, wearing a cooling vest may be helpful.
- Listen to your body. If you feel weak, dizzy, or thirsty, find a place to rest in the shade. Drink water, tell someone (family member, lifeguard, camp counselor, coach, or friend) how you are feeling and take a break. Ask them to stay by your side until you feel better.
Amusement and Water Parks
Families often like to spend time at amusement and water parks during the summer. Many people with epilepsy can participate in these activities without difficulty, but some people need to plan ahead to stay safe. Some things to consider before heading to the park include:
- How do your seizures affect you? What risk might an amusement park ride or water slide ride present if you were to have a seizure while participating?
- Have a friend or family member with you who is strong enough to help if you have a seizure.
- What activities at the park might be similar to your seizure triggers? For some people, excitement or stress due to rides, noise, or crowds may trigger a seizure. Some amusement park rides have flashing lights that can be a trigger for some people with photosensitive epilepsy.
- Read all signs before going on any ride. Make sure the ride is suitable and safe for you. Consider how having a seizure during the ride may affect your ability to respond, your safety, and the safety of others.
- Follow the water safety rules listed above for swimming when you are having fun at the water park.
Staying safe at home should be a priority for everyone. People with uncontrolled epilepsy may sometimes need extra safeguards in outdoor spaces. A few things to consider:
- Use lawn mowers and other power garden tools with caution. A lawn mower, grass, or hedge trimmer that switches off automatically when the handle is released may help reduce injury if you have a seizure. If your seizures are not well controlled, talk to your health care team about safety limits and precautions for outdoor garden tools.
- Be aware of the risk of burns and scalds when using an outdoor grill or barbecue. Take precautions for safety around sources of heat.
- If you or a loved one has seizures that cause them to fall, avoid rough concrete or gravel surfaces. Consider grass, bark mulch, or wooden decking as safer options to reduce the risk of injury from a fall.
- Make sure appropriate safety railings are in place on elevated decks and patios.
- If you wander or fall during a seizure and you live near an open body of water or if you have a pool, use a fence as a safety barrier.
- Outside home improvement projects (painting, window washing, gutter cleaning, etc.) are often on the summer to-do list. If you have seizures that impair your awareness or cause you to fall, avoid climbing ladders.
General Summer Safety Guidelines
- Talk to your epilepsy doctor or nurse about your plans for summer and ask their advice about choices you may need to make.
- Share your plans for summer fun with the people closest to you and invite them to participate with you.
- Inform lifeguards, camp counselors, coaches, and travel guides of your epilepsy and your seizure action plan.
- Stay hydrated before, during, and after activity.
- Eat nutritious meals. Plan ahead with healthy snacks and a good water supply for extended periods of activity.
- Always take your seizure medications as directed, regularly and reliably.
- Keep good sleep habits and avoid strenuous activities if you are not well rested.
- Wear appropriate protective gear for activities (e.g., bike helmet, life vest, etc.).
- When around water, have someone with you who knows what your seizures are like and is able to help if a seizure occurs.
- If you are going for a walk, hike, jog, or bike ride alone, follow standard safety guidelines. Always tell someone your route and how long you expect to be gone.
- Wear or carry something (e.g., medical alert bracelet, necklace, wallet card, smart watch, or phone) that identifies you have epilepsy and has instructions for a first aid seizure plan.
- Avoid activities that are known to place someone with epilepsy at high risk: boxing, high altitude activities like rock and mountain climbing, bungee jumping, scuba diving, sky diving, hang gliding, and paragliding.
Elaine Kiriakopoulos MD, MSc
Patty Obsorne Shafer RN, MN
Friday, July 26, 2019