First aid: Fainting

What is it?

Fainting is the loss of consciousness most often caused by a temporary decrease in oxygen and blood flow to the brain. Most of the time, fainting in children is not due to a life-threatening or serious cause. It may be provoked by fear, pain, heat stress, needing to eat, or even a strange smell.

What are the symptoms?

Children may have nausea, feel light-headed, or get tunnel vision just prior to fainting. Most fainting spells generally last for no more than 60 seconds.

What can/should be done at home

  • If you are present and can anticipate the fainting spell, make sure the child does not hit his or her head as he or she falls to the floor.
  • If possible, place the head lower than the heart. If that is not possible, at least put the legs higher than the head.
  • Check for breathing and a pulse, and, if not present, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

When to get immediate attention

Each fainting episode should be brought to the your physician's attention even when there seems to be an obvious cause.

Access immediate care:

  • If there is no pulse or breathing (or trouble breathing)
  • If the fainting spell lasts more than two minutes
  • If there is any suspicion of a seizure (shaking or jerking)
  • If the fainting spell was initiated because of trauma to the head
  • If there is a family history of abnormal heart rhythms or sudden death, particularly in anyone under age 40
  • If the fainting spell occurred right in the middle of exercise
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