Shining A Light: Photosensitive Epilepsy

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Photosensitive Epilepsy: For those diagnosed with Epilepsy, it is a sensitivity to certain lights, flashing lights and bold contrasting visual patterns such as stripes or checks which can trigger seizures.

How common is Photosensitive Epilepsy? Around 1 in 100 people has epilepsy and of these people, up to 5% have photosensitive epilepsy.

Seizure triggers vary from person to person. Here is a list of some common triggers courtesy of WebMD:

  • Flashing light
  • Bright, contrasting patterns such as white bars against a black background
  • Flashing white light followed by darkness
  • Stimulating images that take up your complete field of vision, such as being very close to a TV screen
  • Certain colors, such as red and blue

Here are some examples of situations or events that can trigger seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy courtesy of WebMD:

  • 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

I am one of the 5% of people diagnosed with Epilepsy who also suffers from Photosensitive Epilepsy. Discovering new triggers almost each and every day. I’ve taken steps to minimize my exposure to triggers. Sometimes it helps and sometimes it only helps so much. I never leave home without sunglasses. Rain or shine I wear them. I wear them inside stores that use fluorescent lighting and along a sunset drive as the bright lights strobe through the tree branches.  At times it does give me an innocent laugh as I feel as though I am a real-life vampire vulnerable to light. But Photosensitive Epilepsy is a real-life situation and the effects it has truly is no laughing matter.

How can you tell if you have Photosensitive Epilepsy? Many are aware if they have a seizure when exposed to flashing lights or patterns. When an EEG is performed to help with a diagnosis a flashing light test (photic stimulation) can show if you are photosensitive. By monitoring any changes in brain activity, the test can be stopped before a seizure happens. A tonic clonic (convulsive) seizure is the most common type of seizure that is triggered by photosensitivity. A photosensitive trigger will usually trigger a seizure instantly.

If you find yourself in a Photosensitive Epilepsy trigger situation, cover your eyes until the trigger is no longer a threat. Also be mindful of what triggers your epilepsy and avoid these situations as best as possible. If need be, remind those around you of your triggers so that they can help you avoid them too.

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