Holiday lights may trigger epileptic seizures

Nov 29, 2013 | News

Holiday lights, Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Holiday lights, Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

By Charlotte Hillyard-Baker

December can be one of the most challenging times of the year for some people with epilepsy. That’s because flashing light displays in public places can trigger seizures.

Epilepsy, according to the Epilepsy Canada website, “is a physical condition characterized by sudden, brief changes in how the brain works.”

“Basically, a seizure is the brain misfiring in some way, shape or form — sort of like an electrical storm in the brain or part of the brain,” said Drew Woodley, Director of Communications at Epilepsy Toronto.

“Certain things can trigger that to happen. Sometimes it can be things like stress or lack of sleep, but occasionally it’s an environmental trigger and, for whatever reason, the flashing lights can act as a trigger in some people to have seizures,” said Woodley.

People whose seizures are triggered by lights have a special sensitivity, and it’s important for those who are setting up light displays to be aware of the causes, he told Humber News.

“Of the people living with epilepsy, flashing lights which is called photo sensitivity, occurs somewhere between three and five per cent of people with epilepsy,” he said.

Woodley did note that flashing lights aren’t necessarily an “especially common” trigger for seizures.

“It happens in three to five per cent of people living with epilepsy and usually young people like children and people under the age of 20,” Woodley said.

Jaime Wheaterbee, Manager of Donors and Administration at Epilepsy Canada, said there is a certain rate of light that can determine if someone will be triggered.

“Consensus recommends that photosensitive individuals should not be exposed to flashes greater than three per second,” Weatherbee told Humber News.

Woodley said a person living with epilepsy should talk to their neurologist for help if they’re suffering seizures due to flashing lights.

“There are certain types of sunglasses that are specially designed to help reduce that,” Woodley adds.