Epilepsy pillows - a possible safety support for nighttime seizures

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Young child sleeping with an epilepsy pillow

If you are living with epilepsy, there are many small changes you can make to reduce the risks associated with the condition. From tracking seizures to getting enough sleep, to managing your stress and taking your meds, all these can help you stay in control. Another thing that some people find helpful are epilepsy pillows. 

Epilepsy pillows are intended to reduce the risk of Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP). They are designed in a way which makes it easier to breathe if you are face down in your pillow during a seizure while asleep. 

So how do anti-seizure pillows work, can they prevent SUDEP, and do you need one? 

What is an anti suffocation epilepsy pillow?

Anti seizure pillows are special pillows designed to reduce the risk of SUDEP. They allow you to breathe more easily if you are lying face-down during a seizure, compared to traditional pillows. 

People first began designing epilepsy pillows because researchers noticed that over 80% of people who die from SUDEP are found lying face down in their beds. This suggests that these people turned onto their fronts during a seizure while sleeping. Lying face down makes it harder to breathe, potentially meaning they died from suffocation. 

Design of anti seizure pillows  

Epilepsy pillows are designed to improve air flow through the pillow compared to traditional pillows. 

  • Some of them use an ‘egg carton’ design, using foam. The gaps mean air can flow more easily from the side when you are facing down on the pillow. 
  • Some have a design where there are holes right through the pillow. This allows air to come through from below. 
  • You normally would need to buy a special pillow cover from the manufacturer too. 

Do epilepsy pillows really work?

Right now, we don’t know for sure if anti suffocation epilepsy pillows really prevent SUDEP. There just isn’t enough scientific evidence to confirm they work. 

Some scientists have questioned the idea that pillows are the cause of SUDEP. They point out that in many cases of SUDEP, people are found lying face up. There is also evidence that SUDEP is caused by heart problems instead of breathing. 

That being said, one study in 2014 did prove that anti-seizure pillows do improve oxygen flows compared with traditional pillows when the user is lying face down. So, if the hypothesis that SUDEP is mainly caused by suffocation turns out to be correct, then using these pillows could be a great help. 

Pros and cons of epilepsy pillows

Are you thinking of buying an anti-seizure pillow? Here are the pros and cons of these products. 

Pros of epilepsy pillows:

  • They are proven to improve airflow when you are facing down
  • If suffocation is the main cause of SUDEP, then they could save lives
  • They can give you peace of mind
  • It might allow for more independent living (not needing someone to stay in the same room as you at night)

Cons of epilepsy pillows

  • Epilepsy pillows are not currently recommended by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) 
  • It’s not been proven they prevent SUDEP
  • They tend to be fairly expensive, and you may have to get them shipped from abroad (most suppliers are based in Europe, so you’ll have to pay for international shipping)
  • Some people find these pillows uncomfortable

4 suppliers of anti suffocation epilepsy pillows

Here are four suppliers of epilepsy pillows. Note that all these companies are based in Europe, so if you’re ordering from the US, delivery times and fees will vary. 

Are you thinking of investing in an epilepsy pillow? Using these kinds of products could give you greater peace of mind. But it’s always worth speaking to your doctor about your plans and to get their approval.

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