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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: 
B007.05

This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.

  • Updated June 2018
    To be reviewed June 2021

Comments: read the 10 comments or add yours

Comments

Hi everyone. My name is Mattison and my Fiancee has severe photosensitive epilepsy. I am looking for a couple of answers for things. Has anyone found out other ways to hold back a seizure of any type due to flashing? Like, do specific things help keep you out of a seizure? IE: adrenaline or something similar or entirely different.

Submitted by Mattison on

Hi Mattison

Thank you for your question. 

The main way to treat photosensitive epilepsy is still with epilepsy medicine. If epilepsy medicine doesn’t work your epilepsy specialist could look into other treatment options for you.

https://www.epilepsy.org.uk/info/treatment

ttps://www.epilepsy.org.uk/info/treatment/other-ways-treating-epilepsy

On our website we have information on some ways to reduce the risk of seizures for someone with photosensitive epilepsy

https://www.epilepsy.org.uk/info/photosensitive-epilepsy#reduce . This includes information on immediately covering one eye with the palm of your hand and turning away from the trigger. This reduces the number of brain cells that are stimulated and reduces the risk of a seizure happening. Do not just close your eyes as this could increase your risk of having a seizure.

Regards 

Diane

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on

I have just been diagnosed with this condition, I had a lot of siezures, going black in my left eye and feeling like I was passing out. Also muscle spasms and twitching at the same time. I used to get it everyday on the M20 at the same spot on sunny days driving home at the same time. Now I know it was the sun flashing through the trees on a hill. I had a bad one last week in a museum looking at a display, also on the bus looking out of the window, the sun was at the right angle and reflected off glass widows. I had an MRI and have a trauma on my right frontal lobe. I got hit by lightning side strike in QLD Australia 16 years ago was knocked out and it's been hell ever since. The lesion is as big as a golf ball and has only just been found. It was either the current or fall what caused it. No healed fractures.

Submitted by Stephen on

I am concerned at the recent (1917) introduction of intense strobe flashing lights at the back of gravel lorries and on recovery trucks. They use bursts of strobe separated by brief pauses.
I 'm sure they are used with good intent, but have written to my MP asking for a ban.
On a personal note the lights only cause anxiety but I will use your advice to cover one eye thankyou. Richard (age 73)

Submitted by Richard Palmer on

Iam wondering if what I have is photosenstive epilepsy Iam in Africa Tanzania.
Recently I just don't understand my self and people tell me that Iam acting awkward it's just that Iam feeling dizzy and if Iam writting then Iam going to mess up the work like draw on my paper work and I always shake my legs alot have gone to hospital they just told me that Iam having epilepsy and gave me drugs which I have to take everyday Iam totally confused it's like Iam loosing my life already.Iam 56 years of age.

Submitted by Rachel msangi on

Hi Rachel

It can be tough coming to terms with having epilepsy.

But hopefully if you get on the right dose of the right epilepsy medicine your seizures will be controlled.

Most people with epilepsy have to take epilepsy medicine for the rest of their lives.

Photosensitive epilepsy is when your seizures are triggered by lights that flash at a certain frequency. Not many people have this type of epilepsy. But the feelings you describe could possibly be focal seizures.

There is a Tanzanian Epilepsy Association where you may get more information.

You may also be interested in our online community forum4e. This is for people with epilepsy and carers of people with epilepsy. It might help to talk to other people in a similar situation.

I do hope things start to feel easier for you soon.

Regards

Cherry  

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on

Flashing lights starts a reaction for me .work in retail. They had put xmas lights up over my day's off .return to work within 10 minutes the effect had started. Headache. Then pins and needles in my fingers. The worst is my speech is effective. I suffer from migraine so take medication. Had scans .just told to be aware of my space . Wait for the episode to past .

Submitted by Denise Horwood on

Hi Denise

That must be distressing for you. Have you told your employer that the lights are making you feel ill? They might be able to swap them for ones that don’t flash.

Some people find they get migraines triggered by flashing or flickering light. This is different from photosensitive epilepsy, but sometimes the symptoms of migraine and epilepsy can be similar. If you’re concerned, you could talk to you GP (family doctor). If they think you might have photosensitive epilepsy they can arrange to refer you to an epilepsy specialist.

Best wishes

Grace

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by Grace-Epilepsy ... on

I have had seizures ever since I had a heart scan. When I was sitting up on the scanning table. I was very dizzy and nauseated. I struggled to walk to sit down beside my daughter who was waiting in the room as I took the test. I suddenly had two seizures on the floor. At home I had two more seizures and ambulance was called. After four years of hundreds of seizures I am going for a sleep deprives EEG tomorrow. I am so light sensitive, wear rose color glasses, react to flashing lights. florescence lights, fast editing etc...my question is will I react to the strobe lighting in the test more so with lack of sleep than having enough sleep or does it depend on my neurons response at the time? Do the neurons react regardless? I have had so many seizures in public it feels unnerving to go anywhere.

Submitted by mary on

Hi Mary

It good your doctors are doing more test to try help with your epilepsy.

A sleep-deprived EEG test is done when you have had less sleep than usual. When you are tired, there is more chance that there will be unusual electrical activity in your brain.

As your seizures are so unpredictable you may find our safety information helpful. It has information on how to assess risks and how to help yourself feel more confident about going out.

I hope this test give you doctors some helpful information so they can help with your seizure control.

Regards

Diane

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by Diane-Epilepsy ... on

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