Physical activity is very good for most people and the person who has epilepsy is no exception. In fact, it has been found that in most cases, physical activity FAVOURABLY affects the epilepsy. The tension and stress that can trigger seizures may be reduced through physical activity—which includes swimming. To maximize the benefits of swimming and water sports, and minimize the possibility of a preventable incident—BE WATER SMART!
- DO NOT Swim alone. Swim with a friend, and preferably in an area that is supervised by a National Lifesaving Society (NLS) trained lifeguard. Supervision while swimming is important for anyone and it is even more important for someone who has a seizure disorder. This is especially true if the person does not experience an aura prior to a seizure and/or has difficulty maintaining seizure control.
- STAY CLOSE TO CHILDREN. Under no circumstances should a child be left unsupervised around water, especially if there is a diagnosed seizure disorder. Stay within arms reach, maintaining a close watch, and be sure that others supervising are aware of the child’s epilepsy and how to help (preferably an NLS trained life guard). If the child does not know how to swim, use an approved life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD).
- Limit the number of inflatable water toys, and if you have a home pool, remove them from the water after swim time. This will minimize the risk of a child falling into the water trying to reach them. Keep your home pool gated and locked when not in use.
- If seizures are brought-on by bright or flickering lights, it is important to realize that the lights reflecting off splashing water may trigger seizure activity. Blue, polarized sunglasses worn during outdoor activities can help minimize this risk. Note: Photosensitive epilepsy is relatively rare. It is estimated that less than five per cent of those with epilepsy are photosensitive.
- Because hyperventilation can be a triggering mechanism in seizure activity, the deep, fast breathing required in competitive or aggressive swimming may cause seizures. Therefore, appropriate self-pacing techniques should be used.
- If on a boat, WEAR AN APPROVED LIFE JACKET or personal flotation device (PFD) and practice safety and common sense before starting out. Avoid the use of alcohol (which can trigger a seizure), drive at a safe speed when on a power boat, be aware of weather conditions, and do not go out alone.
It is important to know your body and your seizures! If you experience an aura, let somebody know and get out of the water. Knowing your triggers allows you to avoid swimming when you are most at-risk of having a seizure. For example, if you have catamenial epilepsy, you know to avoid water sports at particular times of the month. Stress and anxiety are also frequent triggers of seizure activity— avoid swimming/water sports when you are feeling anxious or stressed. It is also wise to stay away from water sports when you are changing medications—until you know how your body will respond to the change. Back to Top
A Seizure in the Water
Please read and share the following information with others. It can make all the difference if a seizure should occur in water.
When an individual has a seizure in a pool, the lifeguard’s two main concerns are that the person will stop breathing and/or they will be physically hurt. Although any seizure experienced in or near water can be dangerous or even fatal, it is the tonic clonic (formerly called grand mal) seizure that causes the most concern. For this reason a short description of what could occur if an UNSUPERVISED swimmer experiences a tonic clonic seizure follows: While in the tonic (rigid) phase, the muscles contract, causing the body to lose its buoyancy and sink. When the clonic phase begins, the person’s muscles contract and relax allowing the lungs to fill with water and can cause the person to drown. This can occur in a matter of seconds and in just a few inches of water—whether a pool, lake, or other body of water.
It is very important that individuals who are prone to seizures or who are swimming with someone prone to seizures take preventative measures. Namely,
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- Never swim alone.
- Wear a lifejacket while in the water. A lifejacket is very buoyant and can assist in turning someone over onto their back if they were to go unconscious.
- Let the lifeguard on duty know about your seizures (or your child’s seizures).
First Aid for Seizures in Unsupervised Waters
- Call out for help
- Approach the person while maintaining your own safety
- Turn the person over if they are face-down in the water
- Support the head during the seizure
- Remove the person from the water AFTER the seizure has stopped
Should a person experience a seizure on the pool deck, remember to place something soft under the head and allow the seizure to take its course.
For information on how to become first aid trained, or for information on taking a Lifesaving Society course, please visit www.lifesaving.org
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