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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.

Pay it forward

This resource is freely available as part of Epilepsy Action’s commitment to improving life for all those affected by epilepsy.

On average it costs £414 to produce an advice and information page – if you have valued using this resource, please text FUTURE to 70500 to donate £3 towards the cost of our future work. Terms and conditions. Thank you

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B007.02

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 2012
    To be reviewed March 2015

Comments: read the 7 comments or add yours

Comments

Hi do you have any comments on the new Apple retina screen? I had a seizure while holding one when I had been seizure free for years and I'm wondering if that's the cause. I've also been getting headaches too.

Thanks, Kate

Submitted by Kate on

Hi Kate,

Sorry to hear you have recently had a seizure. I hope you’re fully recovered.

We have not heard of people with photosensitive epilepsy having problems with the new Retina Display. The Retina Display to our understanding is a liquid crystal displays (LCD).  LCD screens don’t flicker and are far less likely to trigger a seizure than other screens. The risk of having a seizure is not removed entirely with LCD, some people need to be careful with the brightness and/or contrasting colours on the screen. For some people viewing contrasting colours can increase the risk of seizures.

Diane
Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Diane@Epilepsy ... on

Hi all,
It was great to find this post. My son has had 4 seizures in his life. 3 of the 4 times he was sitting in front of an old CRT computer screen, the other while watching TV. He had been on medications, and then stopped since he was seizure free for 4 years. But just had his 4th seizure in a school computer lab. It does seem that most of the information on this subject is more anecdotal. But it is nice to see posts, and I feel this may be something he can manage fairly well. Any other information on this issue is appreciated.

Submitted by Lita on

There are several settings on LCD TVs for picture mode. The dynamic mode or demo mode has the most brightness and those are sometimes the default setting. Is there a setting that you would recommend to reduce somewhat the risk of a seizure or provide a general guide on tv settings? Most people might not know that they can change these settings or which would be best for them.

Submitted by Alvin on

Hi Alvin

The information we have, from our specialist in this area, is that it is best to reduce the brightness setting. If the default setting is the brightest, when we update our information we will suggest that people reduce their brightness setting. Thank you.

Cherry

Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Cherry on

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

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