Caring for children with epilepsy during the COVID-19 pandemic

Parents should be prepared for any emergency. They should know the first-aid to be given for a generalised seizure like the back of their hand.

By Dr Pradnya Gadgil

For parents taking care of a child with epilepsy, the COVID-19 pandemic has added to their worries with many parents expressing their worries in social media support groups. The misinformation about COVID-19 that is floating around on messaging and social platforms is only adding to their stress.

Epilepsy alone does not increase risk of getting COVID-19

Many parents are worried that epilepsy increases the risk of developing COVID-19. However, this is not true. The data available shows that epilepsy alone does not increase the risk of contracting COVID-19.

Children who have well-controlled epilepsy without any other health issues are not at an increased risk of infection. However, a sub-group of children with epilepsy may be at a higher risk, and these include:

Children with uncontrolled epilepsy who experience frequent seizures and / or are receiving multiple anti-epileptic medicines. This is because some medicines that are administered to control seizures may also affect the immune system. If in doubt, do check with your child’s doctor. Children who have associated neurological problems may have difficulty in coughing and swallowing, which puts them at an increased risk of getting chest infections, as they can inhale food or liquid into their lungs causing aspiration pneumonia.

Precautions to take

It is advisable to take precautions during this pandemic to protect your child if he or she is under treatment for epilepsy. It is critical to continue the prescribed anti-epileptic medication and take care not to miss any doses. If a particular medicine is not available or a change in symptoms is causing any concern, one should not stop or change medicines on one’s own. Reach out to your doctor.

With schools shut and children confined to their homes, their daily schedules have changed with many children staying up late and keeping irregular sleeping hours. This may have multiple effects. Sometimes, it may cause delays in giving regular medicines. Late nights and lack of a good night’s sleep may trigger a breakthrough seizure. It is important for parents to get their children on a regular daily timetable, especially with regard to time to give medicine and going to be on time. To ensure a proper night’s restful sleep, an early dinner should be followed by bedtime ideally by 9 pm.

Keeping in touch with your child’s doctor

The current situation has reduced the regular hospital visits only to emergency situations. As parents with children suffering from epilepsy it is essential to stay in constant touch with their doctors. Major hospitals and neurologists are available for consulting via telemedicine i.e., video or telephonic consultations. Telemedicine consults can be quite effective for epilepsy and can be used for follow-up visits with good results. One should reach out to the doctor via telemedicine as and when needed for any doubt or query.

In case of an epileptic emergency

Parents should be prepared for any emergency. They should know the first-aid to be given for a generalised seizure like the back of their hand. This is especially for the ‘big’ seizures in which the child may fall, have shaking, frothing at mouth etc. Parents should keep the emergency nasal spray handy, checking that it has not expired and that its pump is working. Keep details of nearby hospitals that are open 24/7 for emergencies handy in case one needs to rush one’s child for a prolonged seizure.

(The author is consultant, paediatric neurologist and epileptologist, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital.)

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