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It has been just over a year since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. In that time, more than 121 million people have contracted the virus, and 2.6 million have died.

Researchers have developed multiple vaccines over the past year, which are being administered all over the world. Recently, in some regions, the number of new COVID-19 cases has gone down.

However, testing is vital, as it allows medical professionals to know who has the virus and act quickly to quarantine others who may be at risk of exposure.

A team led by researchers from the University of Surrey in Guildford, England, developed a new method to test for COVID-19. The test utilizes skin swabbing, which is a non-invasive procedure.

COVID-19 testing

There are two types of diagnostic tests that can detect whether a person has the virus that causes COVID-19 — molecular tests and antigen tests.

Molecular tests detect genetic material from the virus, and antigen tests detect proteins from the virus. These tests diagnose active infections, and medical professionals perform these tests by collecting mucus samples from individuals.

As both types of tests generally involve using a long test swab in a person’s throat or nasal passages, most people consider them invasive. Molecular tests typically involve a nasopharyngeal swab (a swab of the part of the throat behind the nose), a nasal swab, or a throat swab. Experts consider molecular tests to be highly accurate, but it can take days to get results.

Antigen tests take less time to get results, but these tests are generally less accurate. Antigen tests may have higher rates of false negatives compared with molecular tests.

Doctors also use antibody testing to find out whether someone has recently had an infection. This type of test requires a blood sample.

The current testing methods have some limitations — the molecular tests can take longer, the antigen tests can be less sensitive, and both can be invasive. However, vaccine researchers continue trying to improve COVID-19 testing.

Not only can improved testing methods encourage people to get tested, but accurate results can also reduce the spread of the virus.

Sebum testing

A team led by researchers from the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom recently published a paper that describes a new method for testing COVID-19. The paper appears in The Lancet-EClinicalMedicine.

Instead of using mucus or blood samples to test for the virus, their method uses skin swabs to test sebum secretions.

The test analyzes the sebum secretions present on the skin. Sebum is “an oily substance, produced in the sebaceous glands.”

Sebaceous glands are located directly beneath the skin. Sebum is made up of a mixture of lipids, including triglycerides and fatty acids.

Study lead author Matt Spick says, “COVID-19 damages many areas of metabolism. In this work, we show that the skin lipidome can be added to the list, which could have implications for the skin’s barrier function, as well as being a detectable symptom of the disease itself.”

The sebum swab test works by analyzing the possible changes the virus causes in the body.

“Sebum sampling has the potential to support both needs by looking at what the virus does to us, rather than looking for the virus itself,” the authors write.

Testing sebum secretions for a disease is not new. Previous studies have identified changes in the profiles of sebum secretions in people with Parkinson’s disease and with type 1 diabetes.

“Investigating new methods of diagnosis and surveillance in a new disease such as COVID-19 that has had such a devastating effect on the world is vital,” says study co-author Dr. George Evetts, a consultant in Anaesthesia & Intensive Care Medicine at Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey, U.K.

“Sebum sampling is a simple, non-invasive method that shows promise for both diagnostics and monitoring of the disease in both a healthcare and a non-healthcare setting.”

Skin-swab results

The team obtained samples from 67 hospitalized participants. Of the participants, 37 tested negative for COVID-19, and 30 tested positive.

Researchers collected the samples by swabbing a gauze on the upper back skin of the participants.

“A sample can be collected easily and non-invasively via a gentle swab of skin areas rich in sebum (for example the face, neck or back),” the authors write.

The lipid profiles showed that the levels of certain lipids were lower in participants who had tested positive for COVID-19 than people who had tested negative. The study authors noted that triglycerides were the most consistently reduced lipid in the participants with COVID-19.

The study authors note that the sample in the research was small, and the evidence is still preliminary.

However, senior study co-author Dr. Melanie Bailey thinks healthcare professionals could use this form of testing in similar situations in the future. She adds:

“Unfortunately, the specter of future pandemics is firmly on the top of the agenda for the scientific community. Our study suggests that we may be able to use non-invasive means to test for diseases such as COVID-19 in the future — a development, which I am sure, will be welcomed by all.”

A panic attack is a sudden, intense episode of overwhelming fear and anxiety. There are several ways to help a person who is having a panic attack. These include using grounding techniques and helping them get their breathing under control.

In this article, we discuss how to help someone during a panic attack. We cover grounding tips, early warning signs, and when to get help.

How to help someone during a panic attack

Due to the extreme nature of the symptoms, it is important to understand how to react when someone has a panic attack, as they may feel as though they are dying during an episode.

Certain strategies and methods can help alleviate panic, ease the situation, and even stop the symptoms from getting worse. The ways a person can help include:

Remaining calm

Panic attacks are unpredictable and happen for different reasons. Among those who experience panic attacks, some may only have a couple of attacks in their lifetime, while others have recurrent attacks. One 2016 report shows that most people who have one panic attack will likely have more.

As panic attacks come without warning, they can be very scary, and it is important for everyone else to stay calm. A panicked response can make the situation worse.

Symptoms of a panic attack typically reach peak intensity in 10 minutes. So it is important that people act quickly to help alleviate the symptoms where possible.

Making conversation and positive affirmations

What a person says in response to someone having a panic attack is just as important as what they do. Engaging in conversation can distract from the extreme symptoms and help the person regulate their breathing. It is important to ask whether a person requires help rather than just assuming that they do. Here are some guidelines on what to say and do:

  • Ask questions: Introduce yourself and ask if the person needs help. If so, ask them if they think that they are having a panic attack and whether they have had one before. This prompt may remind them about previous attacks and how they recovered.
  • Stay or go: Let the person know that they do not have to stay where they are. Leaving a certain situation can take the pressure off someone having a panic attack. Find out what makes them feel most comfortable.
  • Kind words: Staying positive and nonjudgmental is important. Help the person understand that you are there to assist them, they are safe, and they are going to get through this. Remind them that the panic attack is only temporary.
  • Have a friendly conversation: An engaging chat can help distract a person from their symptoms. If you are a friend, gently bring up a topic that they are interested in to help them think of something else.

Suggesting grounding techniques

When a person has lost control of themselves and their surroundings, grounding techniques can help them come back to the present moment. These techniques include:

  • Sitting down: Relaxing in a comfortable chair sounds simple, but it can be extremely effective. With the feet comfortably on the floor, a person should focus on breathing in and out slowly and how it feels sitting on the chair.
  • The 5-4-3-2-1 technique: Focusing on other things in the room and different senses can distract the person from the panic attack. They can focus on identifying five items to see, four objects to touch, three noises to hear, two different smells, and one taste.
  • Simple maths: Counting from one to 10 out of order or performing simple mathematical calculations, such as times tables, provides something else on which to concentrate.
  • Focus: Ask the person what day of the week it is, who they are with, and where they are.

Providing ongoing help

Some people may feel embarrassed about having a panic attack, as well as finding it stressful. Continuing support and engagement will help ease their anxiety. Reach out by checking in now and again. Finding out more about the condition may also help if the situation happens again.

How to help someone breathe during a panic attack

When a person is experiencing a panic attack, it is important that they get their breathing under control. Someone trying to help should not give them a paper bag to inhale and exhale from, as this could make them pass out.

Instead, it is better not to bring attention to their breathing and to keep calm and breath normally so that they can mirror this pattern. This method should hopefully get their breathing back under control.

What not to do when someone is having a panic attack

Helping someone who is having a panic attack can be very stressful, so it is important that a person is mindful of what actions could make a panic attack worse.

Actions that could make a panic attack worse include:

  • Saying “calm down”: While getting a person to talk is vital, phrases such as “calm down,” “don’t worry,” and “try to relax” could make the symptoms worse.
  • Becoming irritated: Remain patient to help a person deal with a panic attack and do not belittle their experience. The focus should be on them, for however long it takes the symptoms to pass.
  • Making assumptions: Always ask a person what help they need, rather than assuming or guessing the correct advice.

Warning signs and when to get help

While a panic attack can happen very suddenly, the person will often experience warning signs. These may include:

  • shortness of breath
  • feelings of terror or dread
  • shaking and dizziness
  • heart palpitations
  • feeling as though they are dying

Someone having a panic attack may not feel comfortable asking for help. However, the symptoms could last for hours with one panic attack rolling into another, so a person should get medical assistance if they feel that it is necessary.

Pain in the arms or shoulders is also a concern, as the symptoms of a heart attack and panic attack can be similar. If a person has not had a panic attack before, has chest pain, and is vomiting, dial 911 immediately.

Learn more about the differences between a heart attack and a panic attack here.

People who frequently have panic attacks may wish to consider joining a support group or, if possible, relying more on family members and friends to help prevent panic attacks from reoccurring.

Panic attack symptoms

Panic attacks can start without warning, and they can be frightening. An attack can happen when a person is relaxed or even asleep. While the symptoms vary, common ones include:

  • rapid heart rate
  • sweating, trembling, or shaking
  • shortness of breath
  • feeling sick or nauseated
  • a loss of control
  • sense of impending danger
  • chest pain and stomach cramps
  • lightheadedness or faintness

People who have panic attacks may receive a diagnosis of panic disorder. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, statistics show that panic disorder affects about 6 million adults in the United States, or 2.7% of the population.


Panic attacks are scary for everyone involved, especially when they happen suddenly.

As the person’s stress levels rise, it is essential for others to stay calm and empathetic. How they respond to the person experiencing the attack can influence its severity.

If a person is experiencing other symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting, they may be having a heart attack. In this case, it is essential to dial 911 immediately.

Epilepsy is relatively common in children. Many children with epilepsy will outgrow the condition before their teens, and, if not, treatments usually ensure a full and healthy life.

In this article, we look at the signs and symptoms of epilepsy in childhood, plus the different types of seizures and syndromes. We also discuss the treatment options for children with the condition.

Epilepsy and children

Epilepsy causes seizures that begin in the brain. It is a neurological condition that almost 3 million people experience in the United States, 470,000Trusted Source of whom are under 17 years of age. Often, adults with epilepsy have their first seizure in childhood or adolescence.

The Epilepsy Foundation estimate that two-thirds of children with epilepsy outgrow seizures by the time they reach their teens. Most children can eliminate seizures and prevent side effects with an organized system of care.

A doctor may diagnose epilepsy in a child if an individual has had one or more seizures that another condition did not cause. Seizures are more likely to occur during the first year of life.

Epilepsy affects each child differently, depending on their age, the type of seizure they have, how well they respond to treatment, and any other existing health conditions.

In some cases, medication can easily control seizures while other children may experience lifelong challenges with seizures.

Types and symptoms

There are different types of epileptic seizures and various epilepsy syndromes.

The two main types of seizures are focal seizures and generalized seizures.

Focal seizures

Also known as partial seizures, focal seizures affect only one side of the brain. Before a focal seizure, a child experiences an aura that signals a seizure is coming. The aura is the beginning of the seizure.

Auras may include:

  • changes in hearing, vision, or smell
  • unusual feelings, such as fear, euphoria, or a sense of déjà vu

Focal aware seizures only involve one spot or one side of the brain. These seizures typically affect a specific muscle group, such as in the fingers or legs, and do not involve a loss of consciousness.

The person having a focal aware seizure may appear “frozen” and unable to respond but can usually hear and understand things going on around them. Other symptoms include nausea, pale skin, and sweating.

Focal impaired awareness seizures typically cause a loss of consciousness or awareness of the surroundings. Symptoms include crying, laughing, staring, and smacking the lips.

Generalized seizures

Generalized seizures affect both sides of the brain and usually cause a loss of consciousness. Children are typically sleepy and tired after the seizure. This latter effect is called the postictal state.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, types of generalized seizures include:

  • Absence seizures, also called petit mal seizures, cause a very brief loss of consciousness. The child may stare, blink rapidly, or have facial twitching. They are most common in ages 4–14 and usually lasts less than 10 seconds. Children with absence seizures typically do not have a postictal state.
  • Atonic seizure. During an atonic seizure, a child experiences a loss of muscle tone that comes on suddenly. They may fall down or become limp and stop responding. They usually last less than 15 seconds. These are also called drop seizures.
  • Generalized tonic-clonic seizure (GTC). A GTC, or grand mal seizure, has phases. A child’s body and limbs will first contract, then straighten, and then shake. The muscles will then contract and relax. The final stage is the postictal period, where the child will be tired and confused. GTCs usually begin in childhood and last 1–3 minutes.
  • Myoclonic seizure. This type of seizure causes sudden jerking of the muscles. Myoclonic seizures usually last 1 or 2 seconds, and many can occur in a short time. People with brief myoclonic seizures do not lose consciousness.

Childhood epilepsy syndrome

If a child displays specific signs and symptoms, a doctor may diagnose them with a childhood epilepsy syndrome.

To make a diagnosis, the doctor will take into account:

  • the type of seizures
  • the age of onset
  • the findings of an electroencephalogram (EEG) that measures brain activity

The different kinds of epilepsy syndromes include:

Benign rolandic epilepsy of childhood

This syndrome can occur between 3 and 10 years of age. It affects 15% of children with epilepsy. Children may have focal seizures at night, which can develop into a GTC.

Rarely, children may have seizures during wakefulness, and these seizures usually involve twitching of the face and tongue. Children may stop having seizures by 16 years of age.

Childhood absence epilepsy

Affecting up to 12% of under 16s with epilepsy, this syndrome begins between 4 and 10 years of age. Up to 90% of children with the condition stop having seizures by the age of 12.

Because absence seizures are so brief, caregivers may not notice that a child is having one.

Infantile spasms

Also known as West syndrome, infantile spasms usually begin before a child is 1 year old. The syndrome causes brief spasms or jerking in one or more parts of the body. The spasms occur in clusters.

Infantile spasms can affect infants who have had a brain injury, and many children with the syndrome have learning difficulties or behavioral problems. They may also develop another epilepsy syndrome known as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy

Beginning between 12 and 18 years of age, juvenile myoclonic epilepsy causes different types of seizures, including myoclonic seizures, tonic-clonic seizures, and absence seizures.

Flashing lights can trigger these seizures, or they may occur shortly after waking up.

Juvenile myoclonic is the most common generalized epilepsy syndrome. It often continues into adulthood, but it may become less severe, and medication can control the seizures in up to 90% of cases.

Landau-Kleffner syndrome

This syndrome, known as LKS, is a rare childhood disorder that typically begins between 3 and 7 years of age. It causes difficulties in understanding language and verbal expression. Children with LKS may also have behavior problems.

Approximately 70% of children with LKS have obvious seizures, which are usually focal.

Lennox-Gastaut syndrome

The typical onset of Lennon-Gastaut syndrome is between 3–5 years of age, although some people do not develop it until adolescence. It can cause several different types of seizures. Many children also have learning and behavior problems.

This syndrome can be challenging to treat, and seizures often continue into adulthood.

Temporal lobe epilepsy

The Epilepsy Foundation say temporal lobe epilepsy is the most common form of focal epilepsy, affecting 6 in 10 of those with focal epilepsy.

Symptoms usually occur between 10 and 20 years of age, but it can develop at any time.

How to identify seizures

Epilepsy affects each child differently. Recognizing a seizure can be challenging, especially in very young children, or in children who cannot communicate what is happening.

Identifying a seizure depends on many factors, including the age of the child and the type of epilepsy or seizure they have. Absence seizures, for example, are very easy to miss, whereas GTC seizures are much easier to identify.

Parents and caregivers should watch for when older children appear absent at inappropriate times, such as in the middle of playing, eating, or having a conversation.

Periods of rapid blinking, staring, or confusion can also indicate a seizure. A sudden loss of muscle tone, which causes falls, is another clue.

In babies, the signs can be very subtle. Caregivers can look for times when the infant is showing:

  • changes in breathing patterns
  • unusual facial expressions, such as movements of the eyelids or mouth
  • muscle movements, including jerks, bicycling of the legs, or episodes of stiffening

Loss of alertness or difficulty focusing the eyes are other symptoms of seizure in infants.

The symptoms of a seizure can be very similar to the symptoms of other health conditions. It is, therefore, necessary to see a doctor for a full evaluation and diagnosis.

Causes and triggers

Epilepsy has no identifiable cause in many people who develop the condition. Potential causes or contributing factors may include:

  • developmental disorders, including autism
  • genetics, as some types of epilepsy run in families
  • high fevers in childhood leading to seizures, known as febrile seizures
  • infectious diseases, including meningitis
  • maternal infections during pregnancy
  • poor nutrition during pregnancy
  • oxygen deficiency before or during birth
  • trauma to the head
  • tumors or cysts in the brain

Certain factors can trigger a seizure in those with epilepsy. Common triggers include:

  • excitement
  • flashing or flickering lights
  • lack of sleep
  • missing a dose of antiseizure medication
  • in rare cases, music or loud noises, such as church bells
  • skipping meals
  • stress


It can be difficult to diagnose some forms of epilepsy in children, especially infants and young children.

To help the doctor make a correct diagnosis, caregivers should keep a detailed description of a child’s symptoms. It can also be helpful to take a video recording of the child during a seizure.

A doctor will usually diagnose epilepsy when more than one seizure occurs, and where there is no apparent reason for it, such as fever or trauma.

Steps to diagnosis include:

  • a complete medical and family history
  • details of the seizure
  • physical examination
  • blood tests
  • brain scans and measurements, including a CT scan, MRI scan, and electroencephalogram (EEG)

After a child receives an epilepsy diagnosis, their caregivers and doctor have to work together to determine the types of seizures the child has and what kind of epilepsy they have. These factors help inform treatment.


Treatment options for epilepsy in children include:


Most people with epilepsy require antiepileptic drugs to control their symptoms. These medicines may stop seizures from happening, but they are not a cure, and they cannot stop a seizure once it has begun.

Many children do not require medication for the rest of their lives. Caregivers of children who have been seizure-free for several years should speak to their doctor about the possibility of reducing or coming off medication.

People should not stop treatment without medical consultation, as seizures may come back or get worse.

Antiepileptic drugs do not control seizures in all children. In these cases, other treatments may be necessary.

Ketogenic diet

If medications are not sufficient, some children may be able to try a ketogenic diet, or “keto diet,” to control their seizures. It is essential to work with a doctor and dietician when putting a child on a keto diet.


If epilepsy does not respond to drugs, a doctor may recommend neurostimulation. In this therapy, a device sends small electric currents to the nervous system.

There are currently three types of neurostimulation for epilepsy treatment:

  • vagus nerve stimulation
  • responsive neurostimulation
  • deep brain stimulation


In some cases, specific children can have surgery to remove a portion of the brain. These surgeries may prevent or reduce seizures.


The outlook for epilepsy in children varies, depending on the child and the type of epilepsy they have.

With treatment, most children and adults with epilepsy live full lives. Recent improvements in epilepsy treatment mean the condition is much more manageable now than ever before.

The Epilepsy Foundation estimates that one-third of children with epilepsy may outgrow seizures before they reach their teenage years. This is known as spontaneous remission. For other people, the seizures may become less frequent or less severe as they age.

Children with severe epilepsy syndromes may need extra support, especially if they also have learning and behavior difficulties.