Photosensitive epilepsy: causes, diagnosis, treatment, more
Seizures are sudden electrical disturbances in your brain that cause temporary changes in your behavior and movement. Symptoms can vary in severity, ranging from imperceptible to dramatic seizures throughout the body.
The most common cause of seizures is epilepsy. Epilepsy is classified into several types depending on the type of seizures you experience and how they develop.
Somewhere in between
Keep reading to learn more about photosensitive epilepsy, including potential triggers, symptoms, and prevention tips.
Photosensitive epilepsy is characterized by seizures triggered by a flashing or flickering light. It is more common in children and tends to become less common with age.
Video games and television are the
Many people don’t know they have photosensitive epilepsy until their first seizure. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, almost all people with photosensitive epilepsy have their first seizure before the age of 20.
About 59 to 75 percent of people with photosensitive epilepsy are women, but men develop more seizures. One theory as to why this is true is that boys can play video games more often.
Photosensitive epilepsy can trigger several types of seizures, including:
Photosensitive epilepsy affects approximately
Photosensitive epilepsy affects people of 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 appear 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 are more likely to develop seizures when exposed to brighter light sources.
Seizures most often occur in the presence of flashing lights
According to the Epilepsy Foundation, the following can trigger seizures:
- quickly changing flickering images on computer screens or television
- video games containing rapid flashes of light
- strobe lights
- sunlight flickering on the water or flickering through trees or blinds
- very contrasting visual patterns
- possibly flashing lights on emergency vehicles
What is unlikely to be a photosensitive trigger?
Triggers can vary from person to person, but here are some examples of unlikely photosensitive triggers:
- mobile 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 unconsciousness and uncontrollable muscle spasms. However, some types of seizures can be so mild that they are barely noticeable.
The symptoms of photosensitive epilepsy vary depending on the type of seizure you have, but the symptoms may include:
A doctor can diagnose you with epilepsy after at least two seizures. To make the diagnosis, they will review your symptoms. They may want to talk to someone who saw you having a seizure because you may have been unconscious.
The doctor will also perform a neurological exam during which he will check your reflexes, muscle strength and posture.
An electroencephalogram (EEG) is often used in the diagnostic process. An EEG is a machine that measures electrical activity in your brain and can record unusual patterns of electrical activity that can be a sign of epilepsy.
Imaging techniques such as MRIs and CT scans can be used to look for structural problems in your brain.
The main treatment for photosensitive epilepsy is taking anti-epileptic drugs and avoiding triggers.
According to the Epilepsy Society, photosensitive epilepsy often responds well to anti-epileptic drugs. You can work with your doctor to find the best medicine and dosage for you.
Valproate is the preferred first-line drug for video game-related seizures. Studies have shown that it is effective in preventing seizures in about
Prevent or avoid seizures
If you are sensitive to flashing or flickering lights, you may be able to prevent seizures by:
- avoid exposure to flashing light, and when this is not possible, close
an eyeand looking away from the light source
- watching TV in a well-lit room to reduce contrast
- using LCD screens
- avoiding watching TV for long periods of time
- sitting as far away from the television as possible
- avoid video games when you are tired
- taking frequent breaks when you’re on the computer
- avoiding places where strobe lights are used, such as clubs and dances
It is very important to see a doctor if you or a loved one is having a seizure for the first time. A doctor can help you determine the cause of your seizure and develop an appropriate treatment plan.
It is also important to call 911 or your local emergency services if you are with someone who:
- has a seizure lasting more than 3 minutes
- does not wake up after his seizure
- has repeated seizures
- is pregnant and has a seizure
The outlook for photosensitive epilepsy varies among people, but is generally good.
Photosensitive epilepsy is usually easily treated with medication and by avoiding triggers. On
Photosensitive epilepsy occurs when you experience seizures after exposure to flashing or flickering lights. It is most often triggered while watching TV or playing video games, but it can also be triggered by natural light and static images with high contrast patterns.
If you think you have had a photosensitive seizure, it is important to see a doctor for a proper diagnosis and evaluation. Avoiding triggers is the only treatment needed for some people, but a doctor may recommend taking medication to control the seizures.