The coming of spring traditionally means the beginning of the end not only for flu season, but for many of the viruses that can lead to high fevers in small children.
And that means relief for parents whose young ones have suffered seizures brought about by those fever spikes, known as febrile seizures, which are not unusual during the colder months. Dr. G. Steve Miller, a pediatric neurologist at the Utica Park Clinic, said that while such seizures can be alarming for parents, they rarely cause any lasting damage, and children typically stop having them by age 7.
"The hardest thing is to convince parents that their kids are going to be fine, that they're not going to die from these," he said.
For the uninitiated, Miller said the seizures are just what you might expect -- while running a high fever, the child loses consciousness, then becomes stiff and begins convulse. The duration of the seizure is usually less than five minutes, he said.
"Often times, you'll see a child have two or three seizures during the winter time when there are a lot of viruses or the flu out there," he said. "The relief time comes in the spring, summer and fall. So, this is kind of a seasonal thing, for the most part."
Miller said he sees a lot of patients who have had febrile seizures, usually because their parents are so frightened by the episodes that they can't be persuaded by their pediatrician that the seizures are not a manifestation of something more serious. He takes a reassuring approach to his interaction with those worried mothers and fathers.
"I think the first I have to do is acknowledge it's a distressing situation," he said. "But I emphasize it is just a seizure, and I just have to reassure them that all the studies show that the kids who have them are fine and do OK."
There is a good deal of medical literature on the subject, Miller said, all of which indicates that individuals who suffer from febrile seizures as children do not go on to suffer from low IQs or display any other symptom of stunted brain development.
Miller said it's not really accurate to refer to febrile seizures as an illness in and of itself, since they are a product of a high fever. He refers to them as a condition, one that children as young as 6 months and as old as 6 years can be subject to. The condition most often affects those between 9 months and 3 years, he said.
"It's not a terrible disease, and it's one most kids outgrow," he said.
Unfortunately, since the condition is not a reportable one and therefore not tracked by public health agencies, it's difficult to know how common they are, he said. He did note that there have been attempts by researchers over the years to keep track of the number of febrile seizures for studies in various parts of the country. But no comprehensive, national charting of febrile seizures is done.
In rare cases, he said, febrile seizures can turn out to be a more serious matter. In families in which one or more children display the condition, he said, it may be determined that the condition is a genetic one. Miller said that turns out to be the case 10 to 15 percent of the time.
And for some children, probably 10 percent or fewer, he said, the severity of the seizures is greater. In cases in which the episodes last longer than five minutes, a medication called Diastat may be prescribed to stop the seizures. It is a gel that is administered rectally via a syringe, working to calm abnormal overactivity in the brain.
"That's helpful for parents, to have a means of treatment," he said. "Just knowing you have that available, it includes you in their care."
Other medications can be prescribed if the seizures occur too frequently, he said.
"The meat of the matter is, it's a benign condition," he said. "And if a child has a bunch of them, there is some treatment out there."
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