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07 | Oct | 2020

Can Video Games Induce a Seizure?

Although it is uncommon, video games have been known to cause seizures in children. This condition is known as photosensitive epilepsy, affecting 3% of children who have seizures.

What triggers the seizure is the exposure to flashing lights at certain intensities or to specific visual patterns. It is more common in children than adults as the person becomes less prone to these reactions as they age.

Photosensitivity & Seizures

Photosensitive epilepsy is more common in children and adolescents, especially those with generalized epilepsy and with certain epilepsy syndromes, such as juvenile myoclonic epilepsy and epilepsy with eyelid myoclonia (Jeavon's syndrome). It becomes less frequent with age, with relatively few cases in the mid-twenties.

Many people are not aware they are sensitive to flickering lights or certain kinds of patterns until they have a seizure. They may never go on to develop epilepsy with spontaneous seizures. They could only have seizures triggered by certain photic (light) conditions.

Many other individuals who are disturbed by light exposure do not develop seizures at all but have other symptoms, such as headache, nausea, dizziness, and more. They do not have epilepsy.

Triggers For Photosensitive Seizures in Children

Seizures are triggered by lights that repeatedly flash in particular patterns and intensities. Because of this, triggers can range from the flickering of a television screen, computer monitor or fence shadows viewed from a moving vehicle.

Some sources, such as strobe lights or emergency lights, may seem obvious as potential triggers. But visual patterns and effects, especially stripes of contrasting colours, in any video medium, can also trigger a seizure.

Examples of Triggers

  • Television screens or computer monitors due to flicker or rolling images.
  • Certain video games or TV broadcasts containing rapid flashes or alternating patterns of different colours.
  • Intense strobe lights like visual fire alarms.
  • Natural light, such as sunlight, especially when shimmering off the water, flickering through trees or the slats of Venetian blinds.
  • Specific visual patterns, especially stripes of contrasting colours.
  • Some people wonder whether flashing lights on the top of buses or emergency vehicles may trigger seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy too.

Parental Care

Taking precautions can ensure that your child doesn't have a photosensitivity seizure. A reminder that only 3% of children with seizures can result in photosensitive seizures, and you may already be aware if they are sensitive to flashing lights and other triggers. If you are unsure, an electroencephalogram (EEG) is a routine test for children with epilepsy and is also the best way to test for photosensitive seizures in children.

A common rule of thumb is that flashing lights that are most likely to trigger seizures range between a frequency of about 5 to 30 flashes per second.

There are several other factors such as flash frequency, brightness, contrast with the background lighting, the distance of the viewer and the light's wavelength.

The frequency most likely to cause seizures in children will vary from child to child. However, frequencies below 2 Hertz are generally considered safe for photosensitive kids.

If you have further concerns, we recommend speaking to your doctor or specialist to see if your child may become susceptible to photosensitive seizures. 

Written by Leanne Coop

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