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Managing Your Child's Epilepsy

December 16, 1997, children across Japan gathered around their television sets to watch an episode of Pokemon. 700 of them could however never watch it till the end due to a common medical phenomenon.

Children across the country experienced a wave of seizures after they watched a seemingly innocuous scene where Pikachu (a character in the show) displayed a colourful strobe of his lightning powers.

"But why would an episode from an otherwise harmless cartoon show cause seizures in children?"


The dramatic moment was the climax of the episode where two colours - red and blue- flashed rapidly on the screen, at the rate of 12 flashes per second for almost 6 seconds. It was quite intense and disorienting and was believed to be the trigger in people with photosensitive epilepsy. The episode has since then been banned for broadcast, even in its edited form.

What is Photosensitive Epilepsy?




Photosensitive epilepsy is a condition in which exposure to flashing lights at high intensities or to specific visual patterns can trigger seizures in children and adolescents. 


3% of all people with epilepsy experience photosensitivity. However, it usually subsides with age.


Most people are unaware of their condition and may not even know until they have an epileptic episode after being exposed to certain patterns or flickering lights. They may never go on to develop epilepsy with spontaneous seizures. They could just have seizures triggered by certain photic conditions. 


How Would You Know If Your Child Has Epilepsy?




Watching a child suffer through a seizure can be a harrowing experience for most parents. It can be caused due to a single or combination of factors like:


  1. An imbalance of nerve-signalling brain chemicals (neurotransmitters)
  2. Brain tumour
  3. Stroke
  4. Brain damage from illness or injury

However, you can watch out for the following signs and symptoms of epilepsy:


  1. Staring and not responding to gestures or sounds
  2. Jerking movements of the arms and legs
  3. Stiffening of the body
  4. Loss of consciousness or falling down for no reason
  5. Breathing problems or stopping breathing
  6. Loss of bowel or bladder control
  7. Appearing confused or in a haze
  8. Nodding head rhythmically
  9. Periods of rapid eye blinking and staring

During the seizure, your child’s lips may become tinted blue and his or her breathing may not be normal. After the seizure, your child may be sleepy or confused.


The symptoms of a seizure may be like those of other health conditions. Ensure your child is taken to a healthcare provider for a diagnosis.


What Can Trigger Your Child’s Epileptic Seizure?




Epileptic seizures may be triggered by exposure to:

  • Flickering images on digital screens
  • Certain video games or TV broadcasts containing rapid flashes or alternating patterns of different colours
  • Intense strobe lights like visual fire alarms
  • Natural light, such as sunlight, especially when shimmering off the water, flickering through trees or through blinds
  • Certain visual patterns, especially stripes of contrasting colours


Some games will offer an epileptic warning to help prevent players from experiencing seizures and while many developers are aware of the problem epileptics face when picking up that controller, it still seems overlooked by many during actual game development. Triggers to watch out for include:

  • Frequency of the flash 
  • Brightness and contrast
  • Distance between the viewer and the light source
  • Whether a person’s eyes are open or closed

The frequency or speed of flashing light that is most likely to cause seizures varies from person to person. Generally, flashing lights most likely to trigger seizures are between the frequency of 5 to 30 flashes per second (Hertz).


What Can You Do to Lessen Your Child’s Risks?


Here are some of the best ways to reduce the risk of seizures in your child: 

  • Ensure your child takes their medicine regularly. Missed doses often lead to more seizure emergencies.
  • If medicines aren’t working, check with your doctor and revisit the prescription. 
  • Learn seizure first aid. Know when your child may need to go to the hospital and have a plan. 


What Special Precautions Should You Take?




Children with epilepsy have a higher risk of drowning, especially in bathtubs or pools. 

  • Showers are generally a safer bet over bathtubs especially when constant supervision is not viable.
  •  Children who suffer from seizures have a high risk of slipping and falling in the bathroom. Make it a habit to shower while sitting down or use a hand-held shower nozzle to avoid any accidental slipping.
  • Children and teens with epilepsy also need supervision while in a pool. An adult should remain by the poolside at all times. 


Myths and Superstitions About Epileptic Seizures in India


A major problem surrounding epilepsy management stems from a lack of awareness and understanding of epilepsy among Indians.

Despite being one of the most common chronic non-communicable brain disorders, Epilepsy has been the subject of social stigma for generations. As a matter of fact, a large sub-section of the Indian diaspora continues to consult faith healers, shamans’, black magic practitioners, and exorcists instead of the qualified opinions of trained professionals. 

About 95% of epileptic patients do not get treatment either due to the lack of medical facilities or due to the unawareness about the disease treatment. Unavailability of antiepileptic drugs may also be one of the factors of this disease remaining untreated. 

Epilepsy is considered as a curse, and epileptic patients are abandoned and discriminated from society. Epileptic patients and their families go through the pressures of social fear, misunderstanding, social discrimination in their personal and professional life.

Treatment Options for Epilepsy




With the advancement of science and technology, epilepsy is no more a grievous disorder. However, in most of the part of our country, it is thought to be untreatable. As a matter of fact, only 60% of the patients from urban areas and 10% of patients from rural areas actually end up seeking proper medical care for the disease.

  • The objective of treatment is to manage, stop, or reduce how often seizures occur, and most often involves medicines in the form of capsules, tablets, or syrups.

  • Your child’s healthcare provider will need to identify the type of seizure your child is having and prescribe medicines accordingly. 

  • All medicines can have side effects. Discuss with your child’s healthcare provider about possible side effects. 

  • While your child is taking medicine, he or she may need tests to see how well the medicine is working with blood tests, urine tests, and EEG.

Your child may not need medicine for life. Some children are taken off medicine if they have had no seizures for 1 to 2 years. This will be determined by your child's healthcare provider.

Medanta Medical Team
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