Video games offer children and adults lots of stimuli – moving patterns, colors, flashing lights and they almost surely cause release of hormones that increase the heart rate and blood pressure. But what about the brain?

Many of the video games played today can saturate the brain with stimuli – which leads to the question, “Can video games actually cause seizures?”

Can Video Games Cause Seizures?

Yes, video games can cause seizures, particularly in kids and teens that have a condition called photosensitive epilepsy. Photosensitive epilepsy (PE) is a type of seizure disorder where the seizures are brought on by exposure to flashing lights and contrasting visual patterns. This condition is most common in kids and teens and doesn’t often present after the age of eighteen.

Kids and teens suffering from photosensitive epilepsy often have family members with either PE or a generalized seizure disorder, which suggests they have a genetic susceptibility.

Less commonly, an apparently healthy person without a history of seizures will develop video game seizures for the first time, most commonly a child or teen.

What Causes Video Game Seizures?

People who have video game seizures have brains that are exquisitely sensitive to flashing lights and moving patterns. Seizure sufferers who have photosensitive epilepsy can suffer an attack when playing video games, but they can also have them while watching television and when they are in the presence of strobe lights. Cyclical patterns of flashing lights and rapidly changing images are the trigger that sets a seizure in motion in these individuals.

Whether or not a photosensitive person has a seizure depends on how rapidly the light flashes, the intensity of the light and how much of the light they see in their visual field – among other factors. Patterns that alternate at a certain frequency, especially highly contrasting ones such as alternating black and white stripes, can also trigger a photosensitive seizure.

Since video games are full of flashing lights and patterns, it’s not surprising that they trigger seizures in people who are photosensitive. Not everyone who has a generalized seizure disorder is photosensitive and prone to having a seizure while playing video games, but photosensitivity is more common in people who have epilepsy.

There also seems to be a group of people who are photosensitive who may not be aware of it because they haven’t had a seizure yet. Playing a video game could bring out this tendency for the first time.

How to Reduce the Risk of Video Game Seizures

People who are susceptible to video game seizures should use smaller screens and keep as much distance between their head and the screen as possible. Reducing the brightness and taking regular breaks when playing video games helps too. It’s also not a good idea to play video games if you’re tired, sick or hungry. Even better – don’t play video games at all if you experience seizures.

Can Video Games Cause Seizures: The Bottom Line?

Any seizure needs evaluation, so see your doctor immediately if you have seizure-like symptoms. A seizure can be a sign of a more serious brain problem. The best treatment for video game seizures is to avoid playing them.

Fortunately, some kids and teens become less sensitive over time and their risk of having a video game seizure goes down, which is good news for kids and parents alike.

See your eye care professional for tips and for a checkup to determine the health of your eyes!

References:

Epilepsy Foundation. “Photosensitivity and Epilepsy”
Merck Manual. Eighteenth edition. 2006.