Strobe lights can cause epilepsy in adults and children

Have you ever been in a room or watched a movie with a rapidly flashing light? Did looking at it make you feel ill? You’re not alone.

What is a strobe light?

A strobe light is a light that flashes regularly, sometimes as rapidly as once every few milliseconds. They are often used for special effects both in movies and in real life, often to create the illusion of slow or backwards motion.

Strobe lights and vertigo

Strobe lights have been known to cause flicker vertigo, a condition in which disorientation, nausea, rapid blinking, rapid eye movement, and muscle rigidity are known symptoms. Fortunately, these are temporary symptoms, and most will disappear almost immediately after the strobing effect stops. However, in extremely rare cases, patients have been identified as having persistent loss of bodily functions and a loss of muscle and motor response.

Flicker vertigo is caused by strobe light flashing of 1 to 20 Hz, about the frequency of human brainwaves. The human eye can see up to 60 Hz.

Flicker vertigo symptoms are similar to those of epilepsy, although it has not been seen solely in people who have epilepsy.

Strobe lights and epilepsy

Of course, the most infamous effect of strobe lights is epileptic seizures. Epilepsy is a disorder where nerve cell activity is disturbed, causing seizures. Photosensitive epilepsy is epilepsy triggered by certain light frequencies, and affects about 3 percent of people with epilepsy. While most common in children and teenagers, it has been seen in adults. People who have photosensitive epileptic seizures often experience loss of consciousness, muscle contractions, changing breathing patterns, biting their tongues, jerking and twitching, and loss of bladder control.

It’s important to note that strobe lights themselves aren’t the only cause of photosensitive epilepsy. Anything with a low flicker rate, including televisions, emergency vehicle lights, and shimmering water can trigger a seizure.

How can I protect myself from strobing effects?

If you or someone you know is affected by strobing lights, do what you can to minimize strobing effects. Purchased LCD and flat-screen TVs and computer monitors, and avoid extended periods of time in front of the screen. Take frequent breaks to look away from your screen (which has the added bonus of helping with eyestrain). Wearing polarized lenses and using monitor guards can help reduce glare. Also, make sure rooms are well-lit and the brightness of the screen is reduced.

Outside the home, avoid situations like bars and nightclubs that may use strobe lights. If you are caught in a room with a strobe light, cover one eye, turn away from the source, and try to leave the area.

Strobe lights may create a neat effect, but for the sake of the health of people around you, please be cautious when using them.

This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your doctor. New patients can make appointments online with our eye doctors in North and South Carolina. Current patients can also make appointments through myCEENTAchart with physicians they have already seen.


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