What Is Photosensitive Epilepsy?

Colourful christmas tree lightsFor every one hundred people who have epilepsy it is thought that 3 individuals will have photosensitive epilepsy.

For the 3% of people with photosensitivity, high streets, shop windows and neighbours joyously decorating their homes with flashing lights can be difficult to avoid at Christmas.

With few regulations in place to ensure that flashing lights aren?t too much of a risk, it is important that you understand what your own personal triggers may be, in general what triggers can cause seizures, and more importantly how to cope with these. Read on for more information on exactly what photosensitivity is and how you can reduce the risk of a trigger.

Photosensitive Epilepsy Explained

As mentioned, approximately three in every 100 people with epilepsy will have photosensitivity. Research will also suggest that it is more common in children and young people as well as affecting more females than males.

This relatively uncommon form of epilepsy can be easily diagnosed with an EEG test and people will often find that they respond well with treatment. Most or all seizures are triggered by flashing or flickering lights whether these are natural or artificial sources. Some people may find that patterns such as stripes or checks can also be the cause of a seizure.

Possible Triggers For Photosensitive Epilepsy

There are a number of triggers which may cause the onset of a seizure. We have compiled a list, which is by no means exhaustive, below.

  • Ceiling Fans ? When light is seen through a fast-rotating ceiling fan. Slowing the rotation would reduce the risk here
  • Cinema Films ? Watching films, including those that are 3D can also trigger a seizure. In the UK the British Board of Film Classification states that it is up to the film makers and distributors to identify productions which may include flashing lights. Warnings should be given to viewers about flashing lights if necessary although there is unfortunately no guarantee. Additionally Ofcom regulations require that TV programmes and news stories have a warning if there is going to be a high level of flashing within the programme.
  • Various Lighting ? From fluorescent strip lights and flashing Christmas tree lights to novelty badges and strobe lights. Flashing lights put up by public organisations in the UK, such as local councils, must comply with health and safety regulations. They should not flash at a rate that could trigger seizures in most people with photosensitive epilepsy. In the UK the flash rate of strobe lights is restricted to a maximum of four flashes a second by the Health and Safety Executive. This rate is considered to be safe for most people.

Reducing The Risk Of Seizures

Whilst you can?t guarantee that you?ll avoid the onset of a seizure there are a number tips you can take advantage of to reduce the risk.

  • Avoid looking directly at anything that may trigger a seizure (flashing lights, patterns etc.)
  • Avoid allowing yourself to get to a state that could increase your risk of having a seizure. This can include feeling tired, stressed, not getting enough sleep, and drinking alcohol.
  • If you find yourself in the presence of lights or something that may trigger a seizure don?t close your eyes as it could increase your risk of a seizure. Instead, immediately cover one eye with the palm of your hand and turn away from the trigger. This will reduce the number of brain cells that are stimulated and therefore reduces your risk of a seizure.
  • When using a screen such as TV, Tablet, or Phone sit well back and ensure the screen doesn?t take up the whole of your vision. Also avoid sitting in a dark room when watching the screen. Additionally you can use the settings in internet options to control moving images in your browser.
  • Special glasses are also available to you. Whilst they don?t stop photosensitivity in a person, an optometrist can prescribe coloured or photochromic glasses to reduce light sensitivity or visual distortions.

Take Care This Christmas

For a helping hand this Christmas don?t forget that we have a useful Christmas Guide to coping with epilepsy. You?ll find a wealth of information, case studies, and useful tips. Additionally take a look at our blogs for further information.