The U.S. Epilepsy Foundation has issued new recommendations for families on how to limit the risk of seizures triggered by flashing images and patterns on television, video games, computers and other video screens.
The recommendations are based on guidelines drawn up in the UK and Japan, and are the first published in the U.S. to be based on an expert review of research on photosensitivity (the susceptibility to visual stimulation). The consensus recommendations, which are published in full on the Epilepsy Foundation website
, cover factors such as light intensity, flicker, contrast, duration and pattern.
According to Giuseppe Erba, MD, from the Departments of Neurology and Pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center, who led development of the recommendations: "Children with undetected epilepsy may have a first recognized seizure while playing or soon after playing a video game. Some children will have a seizure when exposed to a specific video game and will not have another seizure unless again exposed to the same stimulus." Erba suggested: "This doesn't mean that the video game caused the epilepsy, but it reveals the vulnerability of individuals who carry the photosensitive trait when they are exposed to visual stimuli capable of triggering the abnormal response. The same increased risk exists for children with known epilepsy who can be photosensitive, as well."
However, one of the most prominent examples given in the release is of the infamous December 1997 Pokémon cartoon episode in which 700 Japanese school children were hospitalized – an incident in which, it has since been reported
, Southern Medical Journal researchers discovered only a small fraction of the children treated were actually diagnosed with photosensitive epilepsy. This underlines the fact that, while problems with photosensitive epilepsy are definitely present, they may sometimes be overstated in the media.
In a separate report also released today, the Epilepsy Foundation has issued technical recommendations concerning light and patterns that might pose a risk to people who are photosensitive. There is, however, no known method to eliminate the risk of visually provoked seizures entirely, because of the great variability of the specific stimulus to trigger seizures in different individuals, particularly in video games.
As a result of a number of high profile cases, all game packaging around the world now comes with detailed warnings against seizures and prolonged play. In fact, Nintendo has recently started prefacing all of the company's games, and even the Nintendo DS start-up screen, with a general warning against possible health dangers.