Common Questions on Coronavirus & Epilepsy

In this section we discuss some of the most common questions that our team of Community Resource Officers have faced during this pandemic to date. From the outset, we have to remember that COVID-19 is a very new virus and it is something we are still in the very early stages of learning about. Should any of the answers given to the questions change, we will update this article and share on our social media channels and other platforms.

Remember – just like the virus, we have not gone away and we are still here for you. Feel free to reach out to your local Community Resource Officer should you have further questions on the below or we can offer you any further support with your or your family members epilepsy.

1) Does having epilepsy make me or my child more prone to contracting COVID-19?

There is no known evidence that anyone with epilepsy is more prone to contracting the virus or if contracted, that the virus is more severe in people with epilepsy. However, for many people with epilepsy, the development of a fever can lead to increased risk of a seizure (fever is a common sympton of Coronavirus). This is because the body is trying to fight off the infection and therefore reduces your seizure threshold. 

Therefore,it is important that you apply the preventative measures that are being issued by the HSE & the Department of Health in terms of maintaining social distancing, washing your hands regularly, coughing or sneezing into your elbow, and wearing a mask.

2) Should I wear a mask when I have epilepsy?

You should make every effort to wear a mask in so far as possible. We have an expanded article on this matter here.

3) Will there be an impact on the supply of epilepsy medication?

The HPRA have stated that they do not expect any supply issues owing to COVID19. Regardless of the current situation, medications shortages can happen and we have a wider article on this here.

4) My prescription is due to be renewed for my epilepsy medications and my consultant’s appointment has been rescheduled. What do I do now to continue getting my meds?

The Minister for Health has signed an act allowing for the electronic transfer of prescriptions to a pharmacy via an approved electronic system.  You can get your prescription from your GP or epilepsy service. In addition, the maximum period of validity of a prescription has increased from 6 months to 9 months as of the date specified on the prescription so you should not be without your medication Furthermore, pharmacists now have discretion in supplying an emergency supply of medication should you have ran out and your prescription has expired. For further reading on the changes implemented here, click here.

5) I'm due to have an online consutation instead of a physical consultation but I've never had one before. Do you have any tips on virtual appointments?

We have an article on how to prepare for virtual appointments here. 

6) Are epilepsy drugs immunosuppressant?

It is our understanding that most standard anti-epileptic drugs which are commonly and widely prescribed are not generally classified as immunosuppressant, or considered to significantly increase an individuals' risk of contracting infections. If you have any concerns in this regard, please contact your medical team however, we would encourage everyone to continue taking their AED’s as normal.

7) What if I have to self – isolate?

If you have regular seizures, particularly tonic-clonic, or any that could cause harm, it would be advisable to always inform family, or carers that you are self-isolating so that you can be checked on. You should also ensure you have all your medication prescriptions in supply and up to date. Make sure to have your phone to hand, along with a charger and if possible arrange for calls to a family member/ carer/ friend at pre-arranged intervals e.g. on the hour. In addition to this, at the beginning of the pandemic An Garda Síochána have received a supply of new vehicles for community response for people who may be particularly vulnerable. These vehicles, amongst other duties, may be deployed to collect medical prescriptions or take people to hospital appointments. You will need to contact your local Garda Station in order to inquire about this. The details of your local Garda station can be found here.

Related to the need to self-isolate and also owing to COVID19 in general, we are receiving increased queries regarding seizure alarms & monitors. If you need advise on the best alarm for you, please contact our National Information Officer or see Pg 18 of our Safety & Seizures booklet here.

8) I’m developing symptoms of COVID19 – what do I do?

If you believe you are developing symptoms, your first port of call is to contact your GP. Drink plenty of fluids and take 1 gram of paracetamol (two 500mg tablets) every 6 hours to reduce fever to avoid the chance of a breakthrough seizure.

9) Is it safe to go to A&E if I have a prolonged seizure?

If your seizure is prolonged and you do not have access to emergency medication an ambulance should be called. If you are experiencing an increase in your regular seizures or a different seizure type you should contact your epilepsy team in the normal way.

10) Are the HSE Epilepsy Nurse Specialists available at the moment?

Epilepsy Nurse Specialists remain available to you to discuss any concerns you might have.You can find details of Epilepsy Nurse specialists here.

11) Is emergency administration of buccal medication considered an aerosol procedure?

Many people with epilepsy are prescribed emergency rescue buccal medication to be administered if a seizure lasts more than a specified period of time; for example, 5 minutes. Buccal Midazolam is a solution placed between the gum and cheek using a syringe. In most circumstances this is expelled in a controlled fashion and does not spray so it is not considered an aerosol procedure. It is recommended (if possible) that those administering buccal midazolam in these times should wear gloves, an apron and face mask when administering the medication. Remember to wash hands thoroughly following administration. Note that we are continuing to provide online demonstrations on the administration of buccal midazolam for both parents & carers and allied health professionals - more on that here.

12) I have heard that people with respiratory problems associated with COVID19 have been recommended to lie prone (on their stomach) to improve air entry to the lungs – what do we recommend for people with epilepsy who develop COVID19?

Recent evidence has suggested improved breathing in people with COVID19 when placed on their front (prone position). This has caused some concern for some people with epilepsy as sleeping in a prone position has previously been associated with Sudden Unexplained death in Epilepsy (SUDEP). For this reason, advice has been given not to sleep in the prone position. The use of anti-suffocation pillows has also been advocated.

People with both epilepsy and serious breathing difficulty due to COVID-19 are likely to be hospitalised, where medical professionals can provide guidance on sleeping position, as well as ongoing supervision. In a non-hospital environment, a risk/benefit analysis has to be taken into account. Therefore, advice is likely to depend on the severity of the COVID19 disease, the type and severity of epilepsy and other considerations. You should seek advice from your own medical professional before adjusting your sleeping position at home.

13) I’m pregnant – am I at greater risk of contracting the virus & is there any further steps I should be taking to reduce risk of contracting the virus and to manage my epilepsy?

As yet, there is no evidence that pregnant women who get this infection are more at risk of serious complications than any other healthy individuals.If you experience any symptoms of COVID contact your GP and self-isolate at home. You should attend all of your hospital appointments as normal unless you are told otherwise. The HSE have a further resource on pregnancy and COVID-19 here.

We will to continue to update this article should any further information become available or if further questions arise. There are a number of other resources available in our COVID-19 minisite which you may find useful during this time. 

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