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.


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.


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


I was diagnosed with epilepsy when I was over 60. I had an abnormal EEG but had never had a seizure. I was put on Kepra which did not suit me and made my memory really bad, after two years I came off of it and went onto Lamotragine. I have had three seizures on 9 years, but each one has been the same which I do not see listed on this site. I always feel tired and go to sleep, then I remember nothing until I wake up and feel and am really sick, tired, confused and cannot remember having the seizure. My daughter tells me I squeeze my hands open and shut. I had my last seizure three years ago when coming into land on an aircraft, I was so, so sick and embarresed. My dosage on Lamotragine is only 25mg per day. I never go stiff, or twitch I just seem to go unconscious, I would really like your opinion on which sort of epilepsy I have. Because my seizures are so rare people do not believe I have epilepsy, but I do have to declare it on insurance documents etc. Could this be something else maybe? Advice please. I will be 70 in September.

Submitted by Lesley Capes
Hi. Certainly that doesn't seem to fit the usual picture of epilepsy. But there are many types. It is not common for someone to be diagnosed and put on epilepsy medicine on the basis of an abnormal EEG. So I am guessing there was something particular that they saw that justified that decision.
Clearly there is something happening for you on a neurological level. If you are not confident you have been diagnosed correctly you could always talk with your neurologist or GP about getting a second opinion. As you have so few seizures this will not necessarily be possible, but there's no harm in asking. I'm afraid we are unable to offer any explanation as we're not medically trained.
I hope you're able to get a clearer picture of what is happening for you soon.
Epilepsy Action Helpline Team
Submitted by Cherry - Epilep...

Hi I was wanting advice on photosensitive epilepsy. At night if I watch TV and there has been flashing on screen, like gunfire or lightning, I have these jerks and jumps in my body which keeps my wife awake as they happen throughout the night. Is this a mild form of the photosensitive epilepsy? Or is it something else. I don't exercise late evening and only have one coffee in the morning? Hope you can help.

Submitted by Stephen Hurst
Hi Stephen
Thank you for your question. This sounds like an unpleasant experience.
We often hear of people finding lights or certain patterns uncomfortable but it doesn’t always mean they have epilepsy. Generally if a person has photosensitive epilepsy they will have a seizure at the time of, or shortly after, looking at the lights or pattern. Various types of seizure can happen, but the most common is a tonic-clonic seizure.   
Programmes on TV are checked for flashing image that may trigger seizures in someone with photosensitive epilepsy. If there is a risk the programme maker either has to correct the flicker rate or they have to issue a warning for people with photosensitive epilepsy at the beginning of the programme.

If you haven’t already, it would be best to talk to your doctor regarding your symptoms so you can get a medical opinion. If your doctor thinks it could be epilepsy, they should refer you to an epilepsy specialist for a diagnosis.
If they think it could be photosensitive epilepsy, one of the ways they find this out is by an electroencephalogram (EEG) test. This test records the electrical signals from your brain on an EEG machine. During the test, they ask you to do various things, including looking at some flashing lights. If doing this changes the electrical signals in your brain, it could mean you have photosensitive epilepsy.
If we can be of any more help, please feel free to contact our helpline team directly. You can either email or phone the Epilepsy Action Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050. Our helpline is open Monday to Tuesday 8.30am until 7.00pm, Wednesday to Friday 8.30am until 4.30pm and Saturday 10.00am until 4.00pm.
Submitted by Diane - Epileps...

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