- About photosensitive epilepsy
- About hertz (Hz)
- Diagnosing photosensitive epilepsy
- Ways to reduce the risk of seizures if you have photosensitive epilepsy
- Some possible seizure triggers for people with photosensitive epilepsy
- Computer and television screens
- Useful information and contacts
The aim of this information is to tell you what photosensitive epilepsy is, who it affects and what might trigger a seizure if you have photosensitive epilepsy. There are also suggestions for reducing the risk of having a seizure.
Photosensitive epilepsy is a type of epilepsy, in which all, or almost all, seizures are triggered by flashing or flickering light. Both natural and artificial light may trigger seizures. Some patterns, like stripes or checks, can also trigger seizures for some people with photosensitive epilepsy.
Various types of seizure can be triggered by flashing or flickering light. These include tonic-clonic, absence, myoclonic and focal seizures. The most common is a tonic-clonic seizure. The seizure(s) will usually happen at the time of, or shortly after, looking at the trigger.
Around three in every 100 people with epilepsy have photosensitive epilepsy. It usually begins before the age of 20, most commonly between the ages of seven and 19. Photosensitive epilepsy affects more girls than boys.
Epilepsy Action has more information about epileptic seizures.
The word hertz (Hz) refers to how often something happens in a second. For example, it can mean the number of times something flashes or flickers in one second. It can also mean the number of times the scanning lines on televisions and computer monitors ‘refresh’ themselves in one second.
Most people with photosensitive epilepsy are sensitive to 16-25 Hz. Some people may be sensitive to rates as low as 3 Hz and as high as 60 Hz.
If you have an epileptic seizure when looking at flashing or flickering lights or certain patterns, this is a sign that you may have photosensitive epilepsy.
Your doctor may ask you to have an electroencephalogram (EEG) test. This test records the electrical signals from your brain on an EEG machine. During the test, you will be asked to look at some flashing lights. If doing this changes the electrical signals in your brain, it may indicate that you have photosensitive epilepsy.
The person doing the test will usually try to stop the test before you actually have a seizure. However, there is a small risk that you will have a seizure when the test is done.
Epilepsy Action has more information about EEG tests and diagnosing epilepsy.
- Avoid looking at anything that you know may trigger a seizure.
- Avoid things that can increase your risk of having a seizure. These can include feeling tired or stressed, not having enough sleep and drinking alcohol.
- If you take epilepsy medicine, always take it as prescribed by your doctor.
- If you look at something that might trigger a seizure, don’t close your eyes. This could increase your risk of having a seizure. Instead, immediately cover one eye with the palm of your hand and turn away from the trigger. This reduces the number of brain cells that are stimulated and reduces the risk of a seizure happening.
Epilepsy Action would like to thank Professor G F A Harding, Emeritus Professor of Clinical Neurophysiology, Aston University and also Professor Stefano Seri, Professor of Clinical Neurophysiology at Aston University and Consultant at the Birmingham Children’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust for their contribution to this information.
This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.
Updated March 2015To be reviewed March 2018