Photosensitive Seizures


Photosensitive seizures are triggered by flashing or flickering lights. These seizures can also be triggered by certain patterns such as stripes.

Photosensitive seizures can fall under several categories, including tonic-clonic, absence, myoclonic and focal seizures.


Symptoms of a tonic-clonic seizure may include:

  • Stiff muscles
  • Loss of consciousness
  • A cry or groan
  • Jerking of the arms or legs
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Limited or even stopped breathing
  • Blue lips
  • Arched back

Absence seizures are characterized by a blank stare while the seizure is occurring. Other symptoms:

  • Stop walking and start again a few seconds later
  • Stop talking in mid-sentence and start again a few seconds later
  • Lip smacking
  • Eyelid flutters
  • Chewing motions
  • Finger rubbing
  • Small movements of both hands

Myoclonic seizures may go unnoticed because they happen so quickly. Someone may think they are tics or clumsiness. Symptoms of these seizures include:

  • Quick, uncontrolled muscle jerks
  • Jerky or rhythmic movements
  • Unusual clumsiness

Symptoms of focal seizures are:

  • Muscle tightening
  • Unusual head movements
  • Blank stares
  • Eyes moving from side to side
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Skin crawling (like ants crawling on the skin)
  • Hallucinations - seeing, smelling, or hearing things that are not there
  • Pain or discomfort
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Flushed face
  • Dilated pupils
  • Rapid heart rate/pulse
  • Lost time or blacking out
  • Changes in vision
  • Feeling déjà vu (feeling like current place and time have been experienced before)
  • Changes in mood or emotion
  • Unable to speak for a short while

Causes and Risk Factors

Photosensitive seizures are triggered by:

  • Flashing lights
  • Flickering lights
  • Checkered pattern
  • Striped pattern

Photosensitive seizures are more common in men than women.

The condition usually begins between the ages of 7 and 19 years old.


A detailed description of what happened during your seizure is important to making a correct diagnosis. Your doctor will likely need to speak to a witness who has seen your seizures, as people tend to go unconscious during grand mal seizures.

The doctor will also perform a neurological exam. These examinations look at the muscles, including reflexes, muscle tone, and strength. They also look at how you walk, balance, coordination and posture.

One of the most useful tools for diagnosis an electroencephalogram (EEG). This records electrical activity in the brain. The EEG can record unusual spikes or waves in electrical activity patterns. Different types of epilepsy can be identified with these patterns.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans may be used to look at the cause and the location within the brain. The scans can show scar tissue, tumors or structural problems in the brain.


Photosensitive seizures often respond well to anti-seizure medications. It may take a few tries to get the right medication and dosage, and the doctor will monitor for side effects to find the best solution.

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
Want More Information?

Cedars-Sinai has a range of comprehensive treatment options.

Looking for a Physician?

Choose a doctor and schedule an appointment.

Need Help?


Available 7 days a week, 6 am - 9 pm PT

Need Help?


Looking for a Physician

Choose a doctor and schedule an appointment.