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Avoiding 'Pokemon' Seizures From TV, Video Games

Rapidly Flashing Lights May Trigger Rare Seizures, Experts Report
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WebMD Health News

Sept. 20, 2005 -- The Epilepsy Foundation has issued new guidelines to help avoid rare cases of seizures triggered by flickering lights from TV and video games.

The guidelines are particularly important for people who are sensitive to light, but "the suggestions are valid for everybody," Giuseppe Erba, MD, tells WebMD.

Erba is a professor of neurology and pediatrics at the University of Rochester. He helped write the guidelines, which include:

TV Viewing

  • Watch TV in a well-lit room.
  • Reduce the screen's brightness.
  • Keep as far back from the screen as possible.
  • Use the remote control to change channels.
  • Avoid watching TV for long periods of time.
  • Wear polarized sunglasses while viewing TV to reduce the glare.

Video Games

  • Sit at least 2 feet away from the screen in a well-lit room.
  • Reduce the screen's brightness.
  • Don't let children play video games if they are tired.
  • Take frequent breaks and look away from the screen every once in a while.
  • Cover one eye while playing and regularly change which eye is covered.
  • Turn the game off if strange or unusual feelings develop.

Computer Screens

  • Use a flicker-free monitor (LCD display or flat screen).
  • Use a monitor glare guard.
  • Wear nonglare glasses to reduce glare from the screen.
  • Take frequent breaks from tasks involving the computer.

Strong Environmental Lights

  • Cover one eye (either one) with one hand until the stimulus is over.
  • Closing both eyes or turning your eyes away from the stimulus will not be effective.

TV, Video Games Don't Cause Epilepsy

Video games and TV don't cause epilepsy, Erba and the Epilepsy Foundation stress.

"It's quite clear that the exposure to video games does not make you become an epileptic," says Erba.

There are various factors, even in people who are predisposed to seizures, that contribute to the seizure activity triggered by lights. The Epilepsy Foundation also stresses that the frequency or the speed of flashing lights most likely to cause seizures can vary from person to person.

"It's not clear what percentage of people has this particular vulnerability," he says.

Past studies of healthy children have shown that 4% to 9% of the general public is sensitive to light, says Erba. An even smaller number is highly sensitive to light, and a fraction of that group may have seizures from rapidly flashing lights or fast-changing colors on a screen.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, photosensitivity epilepsy is more common in children and adolescents, especially those with generalized seizures, and becomes less frequent with age.

"The risk of having a seizure if you are sensitive is only one out of 17,000 viewers if you are young," says Erba. "If you are older, it's even less. It's one out of 90,000," he says.

Those numbers came from studies done in England a decade ago, Erba notes. "It doesn't reflect today's situation, with all these new video games that are coming on the market," he says.

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