In an absence seizure, epileptic activity occurs throughout the entire brain. It is a milder type of activity that causes unconsciousness without convulsions. After the seizure, the person has no memory of it.

An absence seizure begins and ends abruptly and without warning. It consists of a period of unconsciousness with a blank stare. It may look like the person is daydreaming. The person may lose muscle control and make repetitive movements such as:

  • chewing movements
  • rapid breathing
  • rhythmic blinking
  • slight movements or tugging at clothing

Absence seizures are brief, usually lasting only two to 10 seconds. There is no confusion after the seizure, and the person can usually resume full activity immediately.

Children and Absence Seizures

Parents often become very worried that they won’t even know when their child is having a seizure. Absence seizures are very mild and subtle, making it easy for parents and teachers to overlook them. Often, absence seizures are usually not diagnosed until many have occurred. The seizures are likely to continue until the person is treated with medication.Because these seizures may occur frequently during the day, they are likely to interfere with the child’s functioning. A child who experiences them may have difficulty learning if absence seizures are not recognized and treated.

Tip: To help determine whether the child is experiencing an absence seizure or daydreaming, touch the child on the shoulder. If the child responds, s/he is probably daydreaming.

The child will be unaware of these seizures when they occur and therefore need to understand what has occurred once s/he regains consciousness. It is also important to educate others (especially teachers) about absence seizures, so they will be more tolerant of the child’s apparent “daydreaming.”

Generally, absence seizures are the most tolerated socially as the seizures are brief and involve little physical change. Absence seizures usually respond well to the following possible treatments:

  • acetazolamide,
  • clonazepam,
  • ethosuximide,
  • lamotrigine, or
  • valproic acid (for children prone to tonic-clonic seizures).

First Aid

After the seizure, explain to the child that s/he just had a seizure and inform him/her of anything s/he missed.