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Photosensitive epilepsy

Photosensitive epilepsy is where someone has seizures that are triggered by flashing or flickering lights, or patterns. Any type of seizure could be triggered but tonic-clonic seizures are the most common.

There are 2 groups of people who have photosensitive epilepsy:

  1. People who only have seizures triggered by flashing or flickering lights, or patterns. This is sometimes called pure photosensitivity
  2. People who have seizures triggered by flashing or flickering lights or patterns but also have seizures at other times

Flashing and flickering lights

Different people will be affected by lights at different flash or flicker rates. Lights that flash or flicker between 16 and 25 times a second are the most likely to trigger seizures. But some people are sensitive to rates as low as 3 or as high as 60 a second.

Patterns

Different people will be affected by different types of pattern. Those patterns with a high contrast or some that move are more likely to trigger seizures.

How common is photosensitive epilepsy?

Around 3 in every 100 people with epilepsy have photosensitive epilepsy. If someone else in your family has photosensitive epilepsy, you are more likely to have it too. And if someone in your family has juvenile myoclonic epilepsy, you are also at higher risk of having photosensitive epilepsy.

There are many types of epilepsy and photosensitive epilepsy is most common in the following:

Is photosensitive epilepsy more common at a particular age?

Most people who develop photosensitive epilepsy are aged between 7 and 19 years old. But a small number of people who develop epilepsy as adults, also have photosensitive seizures. And some people who had photosensitive epilepsy as children, will continue having photosensitive seizures when they become adults. Females are more likely to have photosensitive epilepsy than males.

Are there tests that can show if I have photosensitive epilepsy?

Your doctor might ask you to have an electroencephalogram (EEG) test to see if you have photosensitive epilepsy. The EEG records the electrical signals from your brain on an EEG machine. During the test, you will be asked to look at some flashing lights, to see whether your brainwave patterns change. If they do, it may mean you have photosensitive epilepsy.

What is the treatment for photosensitive epilepsy?

The most common way to treat photosensitive epilepsy is with epilepsy medicines. This is to lower the risk of having a seizure. To reduce the risk further, try to avoid looking at things that you know can trigger a seizure.

If you find yourself coming across something that might trigger a seizure without warning:

  • Don’t close your eyes (this could cause a flicker effect)
  • Do cover one eye with the palm of your hand straight away
  • Do turn away from the possible trigger

Doing these things reduces the number of brain cells that could be stimulated and in that way the risk of a seizure happening is reduced.

Find out more about possible seizure triggers for people with photosensitive epilepsy.

If you would like to see this information with references, visit the Advice and Information references section of our website or contact our Epilepsy Action freephone helpline on 0808 800 5050.

Code: 
F157.05

This information has been produced under the terms of Epilepsy Action's information quality standards.

  • Updated June 2018
    To be reviewed June 2021

Comments: read the 4 comments or add yours

Comments

My 17yr old son has Autism,Generalised Epilepsy and SunFlower syndrome. His meds are Valporate and has Buccolam in case of a Tonic Clonic. His school insist that he should be able to learn how to travel independently on public transport. They want him to start a internship when he is 18yrs old We are extremely worried about this as he has emergency meds that he keeps with him wherever he goes and are always held by a teacher or assistant during his school day. How do other persons with the same conditions travel independently? Or don't they? Please advise

Submitted by Judith Maskell

Hi Judith

It sounds as though there could be some exciting opportunities for your son. But I can appreciate that you will have concerns about his safety as well.

Many people we talk to use public transport but we also know that some people with epilepsy feel the risk for them is too great. We have some information about staying safe outside which may be a helpful starting point for you to look at. But a lot depends on what the risk factors are for your son and how school plans to manage these risks.

Whoever is helping your son to learn to travel independently must put a risk assessment in place. This will ensure that they have assessed that the activity is safe and it will specify what should happen in an emergency. I wonder if it would be possible for you and your son to ask to see the risk assessment. This may help you to raise any concerns you might still have about his wellbeing and safety.

I hope you can find a way forward that works for your son. If we can be of any more help you would be welcome to contact the Helpline and speak to one of our advisers.

Regards

Mags

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich

We think my daughter had a myoclonic seizure at school Thursday, stiffness in upper body and twitching for approx 7 mins. When she stopped twitching staff asked her questions and asked her to write, the school nurse said if a seizure she would not be able to write after. Is thus correct?

Submitted by Sharon Boyd-Gibb

Hi Sharon,

Thanks for your question.

What you describe happening to your daughter doesn’t sound like the kinds of seizures we normally hear about. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a seizure - it’s hard to say without talking with you in more detail.

You’re very welcome to call us to talk through what happened, possible treatment and support at school.  

Our Epilepsy Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050 is open Monday to Thursday  8.30 am until 8.00pm, Friday 8.30 am to 4.30 and Saturday 10 am to 4 pm.

 

Regards

Ashley

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by Ashley - Epilep...

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