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Computer and television screens

It is unusual for modern computer and television screens to trigger seizures. But it could happen, depending on the screen or the images that you are looking at.

Types of screen

There are different types of screen which can be used with a computer or when watching television. These include cathode ray tube screens, liquid crystal screens and plasma screens.

Cathode ray tube screens

Cathode ray tube (CRT) screens use tubes to create a picture. They are the older style of screen and are large and bulky. They are prone to flickering.

Modern CRT screens have a ‘refresh’ rate of 100 times each second (100Hz). These are unlikely to trigger a seizure, unless they are faulty.

Older CRT screens may refresh the picture at a rate which could trigger a seizure, especially if you sit near to the screen.

Liquid crystal screens

Liquid crystal display (LCD), light-emitting diode (LED) and thin-film transistor (TFT-LCD) screens all use liquid crystals to create a picture. They are all thin and have a flat screen.

Liquid crystal screens don’t flicker and are far less likely to trigger a seizure than CRT screens. However, the risk of having a seizure is not removed entirely, because they are brighter and have more contrasting colours than CRT screens. Contrasting colours increase the risk of seizures.

Plasma screens

Plasma display panel (PDP) screens use tiny gas plasma cells to create a picture. They are thin and have a flat screen.

Plasma screens don’t flicker and are far less likely to trigger a seizure than CRT screens. The risk of having a seizure is not removed entirely, because plasma screens are brighter and have more contrasting colours than both CRT and liquid crystal screens. Contrasting colours increase the risk of seizures.

Choosing a screen

If you have photosensitive epilepsy, the current advice is to use an LCD screen. This is the type that carries the least risk of triggering a seizure.

Images on computer and television screens

The content you look at on a computer or television could trigger seizures if it has any of the following.

  • Flashing or flickering lights

For example, when there are a lot of press photographers on television, all using a camera flash at the same time.

  • Rapidly changing images

For example, these may appear when you are playing on a games console.

  • Contrasting or moving patterns

For example, these may appear when you are watching video clips on a computer.

In the UK, there are guidelines for TV broadcasters to restrict the use of images that may cause a problem for people with photosensitive epilepsy. They should also give a warning if a programme has images that could trigger a seizure. However, there is no guarantee that a warning will always be given.

General safety suggestions for watching television or using a computer

  • Make sure that the room is well lit.
  • Have a lamp lit close to the screen.
  • If possible, use a liquid crystal or plasma screen and reduce the brightness setting.
  • If you use a CRT screen, make sure that the ‘refresh’ rate is set to greater than 70Hz. Also make sure that the screen is in good working order.
  • Consider covering one eye with something that won’t let light through, such as an eye patch. This will reduce the number of brain cells that are stimulated by any flashing or flickering. For most people with photosensitive epilepsy, this will minimise the risk of having a seizure.
  • If you have any discomfort, such as dizziness, blurred vision, loss of awareness or muscle twitching, stop looking at the screen immediately.
  • Take frequent breaks for rest and food.

Safety suggestions specific to watching television

  • Sit or stand at a distance of at least 2.5 metres (8 feet) from the television.
  • Use the remote control wherever possible - from a safe distance - to adjust the television or to change channels.
  • If you have to go near the television, cover one of your eyes with the palm of your hand.

3D television

3D images do not have a higher risk of triggering a seizure than 2D images, as long as you follow these safety guidelines.

  • Remove 3D glasses before you stop watching something in 3D. This is because the glasses flicker for a few seconds when 3D is turned off. This flickering could trigger a seizure. 
  • If you are using an active shutter 3D system, the television should not be placed near a window. When it is daylight, the active shutter glasses produce a flicker in the window. This could trigger a seizure.

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We can provide references and information on the source material we use to write our epilepsy advice and information pages. Please contact our Epilepsy Helpline by email at helpline@epilepsy.org.uk.
Code: 
B007.03

Our thanks

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 2015
    To be reviewed March 2018

Comments: read the 8 comments or add yours

Comments

Is there a difference between LCD & LED screen TVs? Most of those advertised seem to be LED, so I'm wondering how to replace our CRT TV for my epileptic daughter. I fully endorse what has been said about too many flashy programmes. My daughter is now unable to stand things she enjoys such as Strictly Come Dancing because it seems to be getting worse for flashy staging with each season.

Submitted by Kathryn Lemin on

Hi Kathryn

Neither LCD and LED screens flicker, so they are far less likely to trigger a seizure than CRT TVs for people who have photosensitive epilepsy. However, they do have brighter and more contrasting colours than CRT screens, so there is still some risk that they could trigger a seizure. Your daughter could try reducing the brightness setting to see if that makes a difference. She could also try the safety suggestions for watching television that are mentioned on the web page above.

Amanda

Advice and Information team

Submitted by amanda on

As far as the television inducing seizures, I wonder if wearing Blu-blocker sunglasses or orange tinted lenses would lessen the risk while watching TV.
I grew up sitting in front of a big Magnavox TV, having repeated petit mal seizures. Now I have an LCD flat screen on the other side of the room and no problem with seizures. In the evening I wear red or orange tinted glasses to block the blue light frequencies that suppress melatonin production. I don't know if there is any relation between seizures and the seratonin/melatonin balance cycle, but it is interesting to consider.

Submitted by Roger Lee on

Hi Roger

Thanks for your message. Your experience with Blu-blocker sunglasses is interesting; however we are not aware of any evidence their use is helpful for people with photosensitive epilepsy. It might be that the TV you had growing up was prone to flicker, and your current LCD flat screen is not. Melatonin is used by some people to help improve sleep. We are not medically trained, but there has been some research to suggest that low melatonin may be associated with uncontrolled seizures.                                                                                       

Sacha Wellborn

Advice and Information Team

 

Submitted by Sacha on

I need to share my personal experience. I have myoclonic seizures since I was 14, the time when we had our first CRT computer. It continued and I decided to get a laptop since it is flicker free. But to my surprise my seizures didn't go away. I am 23 now and can tell for sure the computer screen is the main reason for my seizures apart from other reasons like stress, sleep deprivation etc. I came to know this when my laptop got trashed and I didn't use any computer for a week. During this period, I never had any seizure even when I wake up early. But a week a ago I bought a 8inch tablet and I was using it frequently. And for the first time in my life I had a full blown tonic clinic seizure. I couldn't remember anything and I am really scared now. Please help me with this issue.

Submitted by Tariq on

Hi Tariq

Thanks for posting. For most people with photosensitive epilepsy, modern computer or tablet screens are not a problem. They are manufactured with a refresh rate that does not trigger seizures for most people. It is interesting that you do not mention television as a seizure trigger. Modern televisions also have a flicker rate that is within the range that is ok for most people with photosensitive epilepsy. Sometimes it is what you are doing on the computer, and not the computer or screen, that is the problem. Some people with photosensitive epilepsy are sensitive to flashing or flickering lights, rapidly changing images, and contrasting or moving patterns. And, the amount of time spent on computers or games,  is sometimes a factor. This can lead to not getting enough sleep, which is another common seizure trigger for many people.

It would be a good idea to discuss this with your epilepsy specialist, or epilepsy nurse, to try to get a more definitive diagnosis and understanding of your seizure triggers.

Sacha

Advice & Information Team

Submitted by Sacha-Epilepsy ... on

Is it possible for flickering/flashing cycle lights to course epileptic episodes?
Thank you for your time

Submitted by brand on

Red flashing bicycle lights (light emitting diodes, or LEDS) have triggered seizures in a small number of people. This has happened when they were very close to the lights, setting them up.

Submitted by Cherry-Epilepsy... on