Seizure triggers

Knowing what can cause a seizure can help to manage epilepsy in children. If there are some very specific triggers and you know what they are, you can take precautions to protect your child.

NB Young Epilepsy are currently reviewing our information portfolio which will be updated in October 2023.

About 5% of children with epilepsy are sensitive to flashing or flickering lights, known as photosensitive epilepsy. Other triggers may include geometric shapes, patterns or situations such as sunlight reflecting on water, or light shining through a row of trees.

A flicker rate of between 5 and 30 times a second is the rate that is most likely to cause problems and EEG test will show that there are changes to the electrical impulses in the brain when looking at flashing lights.


  • If possible the child should be discouraged from coming in contact of any known seizure trigger. If they do, they should not close their eyes as this may increase the risk of having a seizure, but they should cover one eye with the palm of their hand and look away from the trigger.
  • LCD or 100 HZ televisions are less likely to trigger photosensitive seizures than plasma screens which often have high contrast levels.
  • Try to use a remote control to change channels. If this is not possible, encourage the child to cover one eye with the palm of the hand as they approach the TV.
  • When playing a video game the child should sit in a well lit room, at least 3m from the TV screen or 1m from the computer screen.
  • Discouraged children from playing video games when they are tired, as this can increase the chance of having a seizure.
  • Encourage regular breaks and rest between video games. A 10 minute break following 45 minutes of play should be enough.

Photosensitive epilepsy and higher education students

Going out and clubbing is a large part of the life style for students at college or university. We have lots of information and advice for students who are starting higher education and how they can look after themselves.

Lack of proper sleep, insufficient or problems that disrupts sleep can increase the chances of having a seizure, as well as the seizure's intensity and the duration.

However is not only the quantity, but the quality, of sleep that matters. A simple definition of a good nights' sleep is that it leaves a person feeling refreshed the next day.

It is unclear why sleep deprivation provokes seizures, however the sleep-wake cycle is associated with changes in brain electrical activity and hormonal activity, so seizures and the sleep-wake cycle are closely related.

Children need more sleep than adults. If a child consistently has more seizures when he or she does not sleep enough, reasons for this should be recognised and avoided in future.


Having sleepovers can be an important part of your child’s social development. If you are anxious about your child going to a sleepover, in case they have a seizure, the best thing is to discuss concerns with the other parents as well as your child so they understand your reasons for being wary. An easy solution may be to have the sleepover at your house but inevitably circumstances will mean it needs to be at a friend’s house at some point – such as for birthday parties. An initial step may be to pick your child up at an agreed time before bedtime and then work up to them staying overnight.

There are ways to reduce your anxiety and ensure your child’s safety.

  • Make sure the friend’s parents are aware your child has epilepsy, knows what their seizures look like, how to manage them and check the parents are comfortable doing this.
  • Ensure the other children at the sleepover know about your child’s epilepsy and that they need to get an adult should a seizure occur.
  • Where relevant, discuss the management of any triggers with the friend’s parents and your child – such as staying up too late and playing computer games for long periods without a break.

Some triggers can be easily managed if you are aware of them, e.g. by taking antiepileptic medication at the right dose and at the right time.

Even missing one dose of medication can sometimes lead to a seizure and stopping medication all together can be very dangerous.

Also in this section

Epilepsy syndromes

A syndrome is a group of signs and symptoms which, if they occur together, can suggest a particular condition

Epilepsy & contraception

It is important that all teenagers are given information about the effects of AEDs on contraception and pregnancy before they become sexually active

Epilepsy & pregnancy

Some medication can have an effect on the development of the baby so it's important that you discuss planning a pregnancy with your consultant, epilepsy nurse or GP

Causes of epilepsy

The causes of epilepsy generally falls into three groups; genetic, structural/metabolic or unknown

Diagnosing epilepsy

Getting a diagnosis of epilepsy can often take some time. Only until there have been two or more seizures that a diagnosis of epilepsy will be considered

Epilepsy treatment

The main aim of treating epilepsy is to improve the person's quality of life by preventing seizures but also causing minimum side effects

Epilepsy seizures

An epileptic seizure happens because of a disruption of the electrical activity in the brain