12 January 2012

Seizure-smart swimming

People with epilepsy are up to 19 times more likely to drown than those in the general population. But with basic precautions, you can stay safe and enjoy the water this summer.


 A 29-year-old East London man drowned after suffering an epileptic seizure at Kabeljou Beach, Jeffreys Bay, early in 2012.

Spokesperson for the National Sea Rescue (NSRI) said the seizure occurred when the man was hit on his head with a tennis ball thrown by one of his friends. He was rescued by lifeguards but despite the efforts to resuscitate him, he died shortly after.

Research conducted by the Institute of Neurology at University College London, indicated that people with epilepsy are up to 19 times more likely to drown than those in the general population.

Many of these deaths are preventable and Epilepsy South Africa offers some tips for people with epilepsy to think about when swimming:

Tips for 'seizure smart swimming'

  • Before swimming, seek the advice of your doctor.
  • Never swim alone. Always swim with another person who

- Is aware of your seizures and what they look like
- Maintains frequent eye contact
- Stays close at all times
- Is a strong swimmer
- Knows what to do in the event of a seizure occurring in and out of the water.

  • Inform the lifeguard on duty of the potential risk of a seizure occurring.
  • Wear a brightly coloured cap or swimsuit for quick and easy identification.
  • Do not swim or continue to swim if you are tired, feeling unwell, have missed medication or have experienced your warning sign of an impending seizure.
  • Do not rest at the edge of a body of water.
  • Wear a life jacket around water if your seizures are poorly controlled.
  • Avoid hyperventilation (eg. swimming underwater for long periods of time) if it has been identified as a trigger for you.
  • Wear tinted goggles or sunglasses if flickering light triggers your seizures.

How to deal with a seizure in the water
Epilepsy South Africa's basic guidelines for those having to deal with a person experiencing a seizure in the water:

  • From behind, tilt the person's head so it is out of the water. If possible, move the person to shallow water, while holding their head above water.
  • Don't restrain their movements or place anything in their mouth.
  • Once jerking movements have stopped, move them to dry land.
  • Place them on their side to recover.
  • Stay with them until they feel better.

Take care and enjoy life
Staying active is important for a healthy and happy lifestyle and people with epilepsy should not be over-protected. Seizures during activities and exercise are rare.

Most sporting activities are safe as long as overexertion, dehydration and low blood sugar are avoided. If your seizures are completely controlled, you don't need to take any greater safety precautions than anyone else. If you are still having seizures you need to consider safety precautions.

Take some time to consider your own seizure pattern and the need for modifications to activities, and remember to enjoy life as much as you can.

- Issued by Epilepsy South Africa, January 2012


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