Holidays like the Fourth of July are a great time to get together with friends and family. However, those who have photosensitive epilepsy might be worried about watching the traditional fireworks displays. Here’s a brief explanation of the condition and tips for an enjoyable holiday.
What is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes disruptions of brain activity, which result in seizures.
In the United States, one in 26 people will develop a seizure disorder like epilepsy, the cause of which is unknown in about half the cases. For the other 50 percent of cases, the condition can be caused by several different things. In some people, there is a genetic link. In others, a head trauma or brain condition like tumor or stroke can lead to epilepsy. Some infants who experienced prenatal injuries, or those who have other developmental disorders may also develop epilepsy.
What Happens During a Seizure?
Seizures are not always the same. Symptoms can range from blank stares to nervous twitching of arms and legs to even unconsciousness. There are two main categories for seizures: those that happen in just one part of the brain (focal) and those that involve the entire brain (generalized). Generalized seizures can be further categorized into six types:
- Absence seizures often in children usually include staring into space with small, subtle movements
- Atonic seizures involve a loss of muscle control which may cause falls
- Clonic seizures are associated with muscle jerking or rhythmic movements of neck, face and arms
- Myoclonic seizures are usually sudden jerks or twitches of arms and legs
- Tonic seizures cause stiffening muscles which may cause falls
- Tonic-clonic seizures are the biggest form of epileptic seizure and can cause loss of consciousness, body shaking, loss of bladder control or biting tongue.
For about 3 percent of those with epilepsy, flashing lights or flickering patterns may trigger an epileptic seizure. It is common among children and teens, especially those who have generalized epilepsy.
Some common triggers of photosensitive seizures are:
- Television or computer screens
- Video games or TV broadcasts with alternating patterns
- Strobe lights like those on fire alarms
- Natural light shimmering on water or beaming through slats or trees
Another fear is that fireworks displays may cause seizures. According to Dr. Giuseppe Erba, “Any strong light that flashes repeatedly and consistently into the eyes of a photosensitive individual can potentially cause a seizure.” But those who might be at risk don’t need to completely avoid celebrations that may have pyrotechnics. A few preventative tips can help.
- Keep your distance. The closer you are to the lights themselves, the greater the risk.
- Take your medication. Those who regularly take their prescriptions have a better chance of eliminating the risk altogether.
- Cover one eye. If you are watching a fireworks display and start to feel uneasy, try closing or covering one eye. It can reduce the amount of visual stimulation.
- Wear your medical ID. If you do happen to experience a seizure and you’re not able to express yourself, a medical ID bracelet or necklace can tell those around you, and contact emergency help.