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Do Video Games Cause Seizures?

Kulbhushaan Raghuvanshi
The pros and cons of playing video games have been under debate for a long time. Video games have been linked to seizures in children and adults, with doctors all over the country having reported cases where patients suffered a seizure while playing video games (calling it photosensitive epilepsy). So, can video games really cause seizures? Read this story.

Did You Know?

Even TV shows can cause seizures in adults and children. Pokémon's 38th episode of the first season, titled 'Dennō Senshi Porygon', was responsible for sending more than 600 Japanese viewers to the hospital with many suffering from blurred vision, intense headaches, dizziness, and nausea.
Since they entered the market in the 1970s, video games have become one of the most popular forms of entertainment, and are an important part of human culture. Over the years, these games have been applauded and criticized for various reasons, but in recent times, they have been considered as the primary cause for seizures in people.
In this story, we try to understand the relation between video games and seizures, and the necessary precautions that should be taken to control such an event.

Can Playing Video Games Cause Seizures?

There are certain individuals in this world who are extremely sensitive to images containing flashing lights, strobe lights, and contrasting color patterns. Due to this sensitivity, their brains often experience seizures if exposed to this kind of visual demonstration.
This medical condition is termed as 'Photosensitive Epilepsy' (PSE), also known as video game seizures, television seizures, idiopathic photosensitive occipital lobe epilepsy, stimulation seizures, visual reflex seizures, and intermittent photic stimulation seizures.
Photosensitive epilepsy is a form of epilepsy in which the body experiences seizures caused by images of flashing or flickering lights of high intensity moving in a steady pattern. The condition affects more than three million Americans, and is pretty common in kids and adolescents, specifically those with generalized epilepsy.
Most people go half of their lives unaware about being sensitive to flickering lights, until they get a seizure. This condition affects girls more than boys, although boys are more prone, as they are more likely to play video games.
Physicians recommend an EEG (Electroencephalogram) test with exposure to strobe lights, to help identify patients suffering from this condition. The body can experience frequent jerks during an EEG, and a highly photosensitive individual may also experience a seizure.

How do Video Games Cause Seizures?

The mechanism of how images of flickering lights or contrasting color patterns found in video games can trigger a seizure is still not completely understood. Experts believe that these lights cause all the nerve cells in the brain to fire at once, rather than doing it individually.
It should also be noted that, not all images or contrasting color patterns cause a seizure, even in people who are photosensitive. The speed, duration, and the intensity of the images or colors, all play a major part. Flickering lights having a frequency of 5 to 30 flashes per second are most likely to trigger seizures.

Taking Precautions

The Epilepsy Foundation has issued general guidelines to help avoid seizures triggered by video games and TV. These suggestions are valid for everybody, but people who are sensitive to light must take them very seriously.
While Watching Television
  • Keep the brightness of the screen at minimum levels.
  • Sit as far as possible from the TV screen. The recommended distance is five feet.
  • Avoid watching TV for long hours.
  • Make it a point to watch TV in a well-lit room.
  • Use the TV remote to change channels.
While Playing Video Games
  • Avoid playing video games when tired.
  • Tone down the screen's brightness.
  • Take frequent breaks while playing, and look away from the screen after every few minutes.
  • Turn off the game if not feeling well.
At present PSE is incurable, but medication can help suppress sensitivity in many cases.
Also, major video games come with a generic warning, alerting the players about the risk of seizures. Families with a history of epilepsy are more likely to be associated with photosensitive epilepsy.
However, the greatest worry for most parents is to know whether their kids are photosensitive or not. The best way to find out is to opt for an EEG test, and take special precautions if the patient is at risk.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this story is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical professional.