It can be terrifying when a child passes out, especially because you often don’t know why and whether or not the child is in serious trouble. But losing consciousness is common among children, with about one in six having an episode before they reach adolescence, most of which will be harmless. A new study out this week has surveyed parents to see how many know what do if their child were to lose consciousness. The results show that we could all afford to take a little time to prepare ourselves for when someone around us, related or not, passes out.
What causes a child to lose consciousness?
There are many different things that can cause a child to pass out from the very common to the very, very rare. A fainting spell may signal a heart condition, brain condition, or some kind of problem with metabolism, just to name a few. In spite of that, most cases of fainting aren’t signals of serious disease and isn’t life threatening. Researchers in this study, for example, found that most of the children passed out either due to seizures, often from a harmless high fever, or due to “vasovagal syncope,” which is a type of fainting that happens when your body overreacts to things like the sight of blood or intense emotion.
What should parents or bystanders do when a child passes out?
Regardless of what caused the child to lose consciousness, there are some basic steps you can take to protect the child from further harm. Once you know the child is still breathing and has a heartbeat, one technique is a special position called “the recovery position.” This position is for anyone who is breathing normally and have a clear airway and can be left lying down, but should be turned on their side with the head turned slightly toward the floor and the chin slightly up. The idea behind this position is that any fluid that might end up in the child’s throat or mouth can drain easily without choking the child. With the chin up, though, the airway can also remain open without the tongue blocking the way. Locking the arms and legs by the person’s side helps to stabilize them in this position so they don’t roll over and choke with unconscious.
What did the researchers find?
The researchers wanted to know whether parents knew how to provide this basic level of first aid if their child were to lose consciousness since this occurrence is so common. They also observed in other studies that the number is rarely 100 percent, which means that many were probably dealing with the situation less than perfectly. When the researchers looked through their data, they found that only about one in four parents knew to put their child in the recovery position. Half of parents surveyed tried other techniques, some of which doctors noted were potentially dangerous, like slapping, throwing water on the face, or shaking. About one in six children was shaken, which can lead to brain bleeding and damage, especially in children under one year old. In fact, almost one in three children under one was shaken after passing out, and in one of five of those cases the doctor felt the shaking may have done serious harm.
When the research team then looked at how long children stayed in hospital after their episode, they found that what had been done to the child affected whether they were admitted to the hospital and how long their stay was. Those who had been put in the recovery position were 10 times less likely to be admitted to the hospital than those who had been exposed to a dangerous maneuver like shaking or slapping. Those who had been put in the recovery position were also about half as likely to have an extended stay in the hospital if they were admitted. Situations where dangerous maneuvers had been used made the kids more than twice as likely to have an extended stay in the hospital.
How does this apply to me?
Chances are good you’ll deal with children at some point in your life, whether it’s as a parent, grandparent, coach, event organizer, teacherm or friend. Given how common fainting spells are, chances are also good you’ll see at least one and you should know what to do, and also what not to do, when it happens. Using the recovery position is key to keeping a breathing person safe after their episode and out of the hospital. Avoid doing things you might have heard about or seen on TV, like shaking someone or throwing water on them, since these can harm the person and worsen their prospects. Beyond that, the study shows how important taking a general first aid course can be. Learning essentials like how to use the recovery position and how to do CPR can and does save lives. If you haven’t taken a course, find one in your local area and spend an afternoon learning these essential skills.