Seizures are sudden electrical disturbances in your brain that cause temporary changes to your behavior and movements. Symptoms can vary in severity from unnoticeable to dramatic full-body convulsions.
The most common cause of seizures is epilepsy. Epilepsy is classified into many types depending on the type of seizures you experience and how they develop.
Keep reading to learn more about photosensitive epilepsy, including potential triggers, symptoms, and preventative tips.
Photosensitive epilepsy is characterized by seizures triggered by flashing or flickering light. It’s most common in children and tends to become less common with age.
Video games and television are the
Many people aren’t aware that they have photosensitive epilepsy until they have their first seizure. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, almost everybody with photosensitive epilepsy experiences their first seizure before the age of 20.
About 59 to 75 percent of people with photosensitive epilepsy are female, but males develop more seizures. One theory why this is true is because boys may play video games more often.
Photosensitive epilepsy can trigger several types of seizures, including:
Photosensitive epilepsy affects about
Photosensitive epilepsy affects people in all ethnic groups. Some studies suggest higher rates among people of European and Middle Eastern descent and lower rates among people of African descent, but comparisons between studies are difficult.
The exact cause of photosensitive epilepsy remains poorly understood, even though many common triggers have been identified. Genetics seems to play a role in the development of photosensitive epilepsy. People with unique variations of the
Watching television and playing video games are the two most common triggers for photosensitive epilepsy. You’re more likely to develop seizures when exposed to brighter light sources.
Seizures most often occur in the presence of lights flashing
According to the Epilepsy Foundation, the following may trigger seizures:
- quickly changing images that flicker on computer screens or television
- video games that contain rapid flashes of light
- strobe lights
- sunlight shimmering off water or flickering through trees or blinds
- highly contrasting visual patterns
- possibly, flashing lights on emergency vehicles
What is unlikely to be a photosensitive trigger?
Triggers can vary between people, but the following are some examples of unlikely photosensitive triggers:
- cell phones and devices with small screens
- dimly lit screens
- interactive whiteboards
- lights that flash less than three times per second
When people think of seizures, they often think of tonic-clonic or grand mal seizures that cause loss of consciousness and uncontrollable muscle spasms. However, some types of seizures can be so mild that they’re barely noticeable.
Photosensitive epilepsy symptoms vary based on the type of seizure you have, but symptoms can include:
A doctor may diagnose you with epilepsy after you’ve had at least two seizures. To make the diagnosis, they will review your symptoms. They may want to speak with somebody who saw you have a seizure, since you may have been unconscious.
The doctor will also perform a neurological exam in which they check your reflexes, muscle strength, and posture.
An electroencephalogram (EEG) is often used in the diagnostic process. An EEG is a machine that measures the electrical activity of your brain and can record unusual patterns of electrical activity that may be a sign of epilepsy.
Imaging techniques like MRI and CT scans may be used to look for structural problems in your brain.
Treatment for photosensitive epilepsy primarily consists of taking antiepilepsy medications and avoiding triggers.
Valproate is the preferred first-line medication for video game-related seizures. Studies have found it’s effective in preventing seizures in about
Preventing or avoiding seizures
If you’re sensitive to flashing or flickering lights, you may be able to prevent seizures by:
- avoiding exposure to flashing light, and when that’s not possible, closing
one eyeand looking away from the source of the light
- watching television in a well-lit room to reduce contrast
- using LCD screens
- avoiding watching television for long periods of time
- sitting as far away as you can from the television
- avoiding video games when you’re tired
- taking frequent breaks when you’re on the computer
- avoiding places where strobe lights are used, such as clubs and dances
It’s very important to see a doctor if you or a loved one develops a seizure for the first time. A doctor can help determine the cause of your seizure and build a proper treatment program.
It’s also important to call 911 or your local emergency services if you’re with a person who:
- has a seizure longer than 3 minutes
- does not wake up after their seizure
- experiences repeated seizures
- is pregnant and has a seizure
The outlook for photosensitive epilepsy varies among people but is generally good.
Photosensitive epilepsy is when you experience seizures after exposure to flashing or flickering lights. It’s most commonly triggered by watching television or playing video games, but it can also be triggered by natural light and static images with highly contrasting patterns.
If you think you may have had a photosensitive seizure, it’s important to visit a doctor for a proper diagnosis and assessment. Avoiding triggers is the only treatment needed for some people, but a doctor may recommend taking medications to keep seizures under control.