Postictal nosewiping lateralizes and localizes to the ipsilateral temporal lobe

Lawrence J. Hirsch, Aurelio H. Lain, Thaddeus S. Walczak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


Purpose: We observed many patients with temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) wiping their nose postictally, usually with the hand ipsilateral to their seizure focus. We wished to determine if this had lateralizing or localizing significance. Methods: We retrospectively studied 87 patients: 47 with unilateral TLE defined by successful surgical outcome [30 with medial TLE (MTLE) and 17 with neocortical TLE (neoTLE)]; and 40 with extratemporal epilepsy (ExTLE). Videotapes of 319 complex partial seizures (CPS) without generalization were reviewed by 1 neurologist, blinded to patient identity, who recorded each episode of nosewiping and the hand with which it was performed. Results: With regard to localizing potential, postictal nosewiping (PINW) was significantly more common in patients with unilateral TLE than in those with ExTLE. In the TLE group, PINW within 60 s of electrographic seizure offset occurred in 60% of patients (28 of 47) and 43% of seizures (74 of 171). In the ExTLE group, PINW was noted in 33% of patients (13 of 40; p < 0.05 as compared with TLE) and 15% of seizures (22 of 148; p < 0.001). Similar results were obtained with PINW within 30 s of seizure offset. Although PINW was more frequent in MTLE than in neoTLE (67% of patients vs. 47%), this finding did not reach significance. With regard to lateralizing potential, in the TLE group, unilateral PINW (performed with a single hand only) within 60 s of seizure offset was observed in 53% of patients (25 of 47) and was performed with the hand ipsilateral to the seizure focus in 92% (23 of 25). Thirteen patients (9 with TLE) wiped their nose more than once with the same hand in a single seizure within 60 s of offset in 18 seizures; this was done with the hand ipsilateral to the seizure focus in all 18 instances (predictive value = 100%). Conclusions: PINW is more common in unilateral TLE, particularly MTLE, than in ExTLE. PINW performed exclusively with one hand occurs in ~50% of patients with TLE and is highly predictive (92%) of seizure onset ipsilateral to the hand used, especially when it occurs repetitively. We hypothesize that ictal activation of the central autonomic nervous system, particularly the amygdala, results in ictal nasal secretions and causes nosewiping as the patient regains awareness postictally. The ipsilateral hand is used due to contralateral neglect or weakness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)991-997
Number of pages7
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1998


  • Automatisms
  • Postictal nosewiping
  • Semiology
  • Temporal lobe epilepsy


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