first aid


An impassioned plea to help someone having a seizure leads to some much-needed education

Here's what to do and what not to do if you witness someone having a seizure.

There are some specific do's and don'ts in seizure first aid.

What should you do if you witness someone having a seizure?

Many of us have learned the basics of CPR or the Heimlich maneuver, even if we've never had to utilize those skills in real life. But seizures are a whole different ball game, and many people may not know what to do if they witness someone having one.

It’s important to learn what various medical events look like and what to and not do when they happen, because sometimes interventions that seems helpful can actually do harm, which is the case when someone is having a seizure.

A seizure is a sudden burst of uncontrolled electrical signals in the brain. There are many different kinds of seizures, but the most visibly recognizable kinds can cause a person’s body to become stiff, contort, convulse and/or twitch involuntarily. From the outside, a seizure can look painful, but most of the time the person seizing is not experiencing pain. Seizures can also appear to be frightening, as the person may lose control of their facial expressions, might gasp or gurgle or moan and may drool or foam at the mouth.

A thread on X showcases how someone with good intentions can react to witnessing a seizure in ways that can cause more harm than good, and the discussion led to some valuable education about what to do and not do if you see someone having a seizure.

The original tweet in the thread came from a person who was at the gym when they saw a girl experiencing a seizure. As they tried to get closer to help her, someone else said, “Give her space, don’t touch her.”

“She was lying in a pool of her own saliva with full body convulsions,” the person wrote, “And you’re telling me to leave her alone? This is why the west is a failed society. A person can be dying in front of them and they’d be too scared to ‘touch’ someone.”

The person said they “held her face up so she could breathe and not lay in spit” and rubbed her back until she stopped convulsing, wiped her face and the mat of her saliva after she came to and rubbed her hand while waiting for the paramedics to arrive “so she didn’t feel alone.”

The person went on to lament about how “dark” the world is. “The lack of socialization has made the youth weak in ways you can’t imagine. The cowardice stems from lack of intuition and actual empathy,” they wrote.

They then implored people to “take care of your neighbors” and “do the right thing even if you’re scared to offend,” which undoubtedly came from a kind-hearted place. But as many people with expertise and experience in managing seizures pointed out in response, what the person did was not entirely the "right thing" to do in this situation.

Many people who have seizure disorders chimed in to say it's actually best not to touch them when they are seizing as it can actually lead to injury. Holding a seizing person's head isn't the proper way to keep them from choking or to protect their head.

However, the advice to not touch the person at all is not a hard and fast rule, either. According to the CDC, here are the proper things to do if you are worried that the seizing person might injure themselves:

  • If they are upright, help ease them gently to the floor.
  • Turn the person gently onto one side. This will help the person breathe.
  • Clear the area around the person of anything hard or sharp. This can prevent injury.
  • Put something soft and flat, like a folded jacket, under his or her head.
  • Remove eyeglasses.
  • Loosen ties or anything around the neck that may make it hard to breathe.
  • Time the seizure. Call 911 if the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes.

As for what not to do, the CDC lists:

  • Do not hold the person down or try to stop his or her movements.
  • Do not put anything in the person’s mouth. This can injure teeth or the jaw. A person having a seizure cannot swallow his or her tongue.
  • Do not try to give mouth-to-mouth breaths (like CPR). People usually start breathing again on their own after a seizure.
  • Do not offer the person water or food until he or she is fully alert.
Other ways to help:
Do keep yourself and others around you calm. Stay with the person until the seizure ends and they are fully awake. Once they are alert, tell them what happened using simple terms in a calm voice. Check to see if they are wearing a medical bracelet or have other emergency information on them. Offer to call a taxi or someone the person knows to make sure they get home safely.

Seizures aren't fun but they're usually not life-threatening. The CDC says you only need to call 911 if:

  • The person has never had a seizure before.
  • The person has difficulty breathing or waking after the seizure.
  • The seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes.
  • The person has another seizure soon after the first one.
  • The person is hurt during the seizure.
  • The seizure happens in water.
  • The person has a health condition like diabetes, heart disease, or is pregnant.
Hopefully discussion the post sparked on X led to more people educating themselves on seizure first aid so we can all be a little more prepared.

You're at dinner and you start to choke. Who do you want at the table beside you?

Your first choice is Mrs. Doubtfire, obviously.

"Help is on the way, dear!" GIF via "Mrs. Doubtfire."

But if she weren't available, you'd want a doctor. Perhaps the doctor who invented the the Heimlich maneuver?

Well, this best-case scenario (sans beloved '90s film character) happened to one woman in Ohio. And that unbelievable twist of fate probably saved her life.

The man behind the maneuver is Dr. Henry Heimlich, a 96-year-old retired surgeon residing in Ohio.

Before he developed the method in the 1970s, choking was a major cause of death. After reading about thousands of incidents, Heimlich decided to develop a fast-acting way to help.

"I set about researching a better way, thinking perhaps I could make use of air trapped in the chest to propel the object out of the trachea," he told CNN.

After experimenting on anesthetized dogs, Heimlich found that if he pushed just below the ribcage, food lodged in their throats would pop out. His famous maneuver was born.

Heimlich demonstrated the bear-hug, upward-thrusting motion on volunteers across the country. And while some of his career has been controversial, Heimlich's namesake maneuver is taught in basic first aid courses and has saved countless lives.

GIF via BJC St. Charles County/YouTube.

Though the maneuver bears his name, Heimlich had never performed it on someone choking — until this week.

The maître d’ at Deupree House, the senior living facility where Heimlich resides, heard 87-year-old resident Patty Ris choking. Trained in the procedure, he rushed to the woman's aid. When he arrived, he saw Dr. Heimlich already in position.

Heimlich performed his namesake maneuver and a piece of hamburger almost immediately dislodged from Ris' throat. The dinner service resumed without incident.

"I used it, and she recovered quickly,” Heimlich told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “It made me appreciate how wonderful it has been to be able to save all those lives.”

Choking remains a serious concern, especially among infants and the elderly.

The curious nature of infants and toddlers puts them at great risk for choking, as nearly everything they touch ends up in their mouths.

And of the 4,864 people who died from choking in 2013, 57% were over the age of 75. Having trouble swallowing, living alone, and even wearing dentures can increase the risk of a choking injury or death.

That's why it's so important for everyone to know age-appropriate first aid techniques, including the Heimlich maneuver, and be able to perform them on themselves and others.

(The Red Cross offers basic training courses at more than 550 locations and online through simulation courses if you're new to first aid or need a refresher.)

Photo by iStock.

Hopefully, like Dr. Heimlich, most of us will go our whole lives without having to use these methods. But should the unexpected happen, it's best to be prepared.