First aid for seizures in water

  • June 29, 2023
  • 3
In this article
Girl swimming in a pool with goggles

If someone has a seizure in water, this is a potentially life-threatening situation. There is a significant risk of drowning, so it is important for people near them to know what to do in case this happens. In this blog, we will look at what to do if a victim is having a seizure in the water.

Water risks for people with epilepsy

For people with epilepsy, the dangers of having a seizure in water are clear. If they lose consciousness and control of their bodies, there is a risk of drowning - even in shallow water. Most casualties from seizures in water happen in the bathtub, according to one study, although swimming in pools and open water also presents risks.

Essential first aid for seizures in water

Here is what to do if a victim is having a seizure in the water:

  • Support the person so that their head and face stay above the surface of the water.
  • As soon as possible, get the person out of the water.
  • Check their breathing. If they aren't breathing, perform CPR:
  1. Get someone to call 911 and ask for an ambulance
  2. Kneel beside the person, and place them on their back on a flat surface
  3. Give 30 chest compressions
  4. Give 2 breaths
  5. Continue with 30 more chest compressions followed by 2 breaths 
  • Anytime someone has a seizure in water it's essential to get a full medical check-up, even if they feel OK. They may have inhaled water which can cause damage to their lungs and heart.

First aid: General guide to seizure first aid

Bath safety considerations

Having a seizure in a bath has obvious safety risks. Here are some considerations that may help manage the risk:

  • A parent or carer should always be present in case you have a seizure in the bath. They should follow the same first aid steps as above.
  • Keep the bathroom door unlocked and open, so people can get help more easily.
  • Take showers. Having a shower significantly reduces the risk of drowning if someone has a seizure while washing themselves.

Swimming safety considerations

If your seizures are not controlled, it is generally best to avoid swimming. There are many other sports and activities people with epilepsy can do that are less risky.

If your seizures are controlled and your doctor has given their approval, then the following tips can help reduce the risks of having a seizure in water:

  • Always tell the lifeguard or swimming instructor about your epilepsy.
  • Always swim with other people. 
  • If possible, ask a friend or carer to wait at the edge of the pool to keep an eye on you.
  • Always swim near the edge of the pool, so it is easier for other people and a lifeguard to help get you out of the water.
  • Wear swimming aids if you are not confident with swimming.
  • Avoid swimming in open water (rivers, lakes or the ocean) because it may be harder for other people to get you out if you have a seizure in the water.

Boat safety tips

If you are crossing water in a small boat (like a canoe or yacht) stay safe by:

  • Always wearing a life jacket.
  • Sitting inside the boat, not on the edge.
  • Tell the boat’s captain that you have epilepsy.
  • Don’t go out on your own. 

Reduce the risks of a seizure in water

Many people who have epilepsy enjoy spending time in (or on) the water. By learning some basic first aid, and taking precautions, you can reduce the chances of having a seizure in water, and the people around you will know what to do in case it happens.

For more tips, read our article on swimming with epilepsy.

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