By Hana Frenette
Roughly 3-5% of people with epilepsy also have photosensitive epilepsy—which means exposure to bright flashing lights against dark backgrounds or intense visual patterns can trigger seizures.
According to the Epilepsy Foundation, PSE is more common in children and adolescents, particularly those with generalized epilepsy and juvenile myoclonic epilepsy, but typically becomes less frequent with age.
Common triggers for some people with PSE include strobe lights, fireworks, extreme contrasting or changing patterns, video game graphics, camera flashes, very large or quickly moving flags and handheld sparklers.
With the Fourth of July around the corner, you and your family might be planning to attend a barbecue, local parade or fireworks display. Here are a few ways people with PSE can prepare for the upcoming holiday and fireworks season:
Keep Your Distance
Several studies report that seizures in people with PSE are much more common when flashing lights or intense patterns take up your entire field of vision. If you plan to attend a parade or fireworks show, consider standing further back, which will allow you to look away if the stimulation from the lights or fireworks becomes too intense. If a display takes up only half or less of your field of vision, the risk of triggering a seizure is greatly diminished.
Cover One Eye
Covering one eye greatly reduces your visual field, and therefore essentially cuts your exposure to a light source in half. If you feel the effects of a seizure coming on, such as uncontrollable or jerky motions, immediately cover both eyes with your palms to eliminate all light triggers.
Research has shown that PSE responds very well to anti-epileptic drugs commonly used for generalized seizures. If you’re prescribed medicine for regular treatment of seizures, talk to your doctor about taking your medicine before an event with possible triggers.
Request an EEG
If you or your child has been diagnosed with epilepsy but you’re unsure if PSE is present, you can request that your doctor perform an EEG (electroencephalogram) to test for the condition. An EEG records brain activity and detects abnormalities in the brain’s electrical system during a safe flashing light test, without triggering a seizure. Testing for PSE will allow you to safely learn whether or not you or your family member’s epilepsy is triggered by flashing lights or patterns.
- Epilepsy Foundation
- Epilepsy Society
- Epilepsy Health
- National Library of Medicine
- Epilepsy Foundation