Photosensitive Epilepsy: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment


People with photosensitive epilepsy have seizures that are triggered by:

  • Flashing lights
  • Bold, contrasting visual patterns (such as stripes or checks)
  • Overexposure to video games

Anti-epileptic medicines are available to reduce the risk of a seizure. But people with photosensitive epilepsy should take steps to minimize their exposure to seizure triggers.

What Causes Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a vision, such as being very close to a TV screen

  • Certain colors, such as red and blue
  • Some specific examples of situations or events that can trigger seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy are:

    • Nightclub and theater lights, including strobe lights
    • TV screens and computer monitors
    • Flashing lights on police cars, fire trucks, ambulances, and safety alarms
    • Visual effects in movies, TV shows, and video games
    • Malfunctioning fluorescent lights and moving escalators
    • Light viewed through a fast-moving ceiling fan
    • Sunlight viewed through slanted blinds or stair railings
    • Sun shining through tree leaves or reflecting off water
    • Bold, striped wallpaper and fabric
    • Cameras with multiple flashes or many cameras flashing at the same time
    • Fireworks

    Also, people with photosensitive epilepsy may be at increased risk for a seizure if they are:

    • Tired
    • Intoxicated
    • Play video games too long without a break

    What Are the Symptoms of Photosensitive Epilepsy?

    There are many different types of seizures. People with photosensitive epilepsy typically have what’s called a “generalized tonic-clonic seizure.” This is also known as a convulsive seizure.

    A tonic-clonic seizure should last no more than five minutes. Symptoms include:

    • Loss of consciousness and patient falls to the ground
    • Muscles contract and body stiffens
    • Patient cries out
    • Breathing pattern changes
    • Patient bites stress.
    • Avoid excess alcohol.
    • Don’t play computer and video games when you are tired or for too long.

    Avoid known sources of flashing lights. Places you might want to avoid include:

    • Nightclubs
    • Firework shows
    • Concerts

    Be screen-smart. Some precautions to take include:

    • Watch TV and play video games in a well-lit room and at a safe distance from the screen (at least 8 feet from the TV and 2 feet from a computer monitor).
    • Use flicker-free monitors (LCD or flat screen).
    • Use a remote control instead of walking up to the TV to change the channel.
    • Reduce the brightness on screen monitors.
    • Adjust Internet settings to control moving images.
    • Limit time spent in front of the TV, computer, and on hand-held devices.

    Protect your eyes. When outside, wear polarized sunglasses to protect your eyes from bright light.

    Be prepared. Know your triggers and take steps to avoid them as much as possible. Also, try to recall any unusual symptoms that may have preceded the seizure, such as:

    • Dizziness
    • Blurred vision
    • Muscle twitching

    If you notice these warning signs, cover one eye and turn your head from the stimuli immediately. If you are watching TV or playing video games, cover one eye and walk away.

    If you or a loved one has a seizure, talk to your doctor. Your doctor can perform an EEG (electroencephalogram) to test for the condition. An EEG records brain activity and can detect abnormalities in the brain’s electrical system. During the test, a flashing light test can show if you or your child is photosensitive, without triggering a seizure.

    Living with photosensitive epilepsy can be unnerving and frustrating. You never know when you will have a seizure. But many people with photosensitive epilepsy live productive and relatively normal lives. Most people find that over time, they have fewer seizures.