4th July, flags and fireworks with epilepsy

  • July 4, 2020
  • 3
In this article

How will you be celebrating 4th July this year? Perhaps you will be attending a parade, having a barbecue with neighbors or watching a firework display. Independence Day is a wonderful celebration, but because of the link between fireworks and seizures it’s important for some people with epilepsy to take extra precautions.

Here is everything you need to know about Independence Day and fireworks with epilepsy.

How are 4th July, fireworks and seizures linked?

Up to 5 percent of people with epilepsy have seizures that are triggered by flashing light (known as ‘photosensitive epilepsy’, or PSE) which can make fireworks and epilepsy a risky combination. There are 3.4 million people with epilepsy in the United States, which means there are an estimated 170,000 people with PSE. It is most common for younger people and girls.  

There are several reported cases of people who have had seizures caused by firework displays. People with PSE are especially likely to experience seizures when flashes occur between 3 and 30 times per second and the lighting takes up a large proportion of what they can see (their ‘visual field’). This means that the final moments of a firework display could be especially risky as there are many rapid flashes happening.

Besides firework displays, other triggers for PSE on Independence Day might include:

·        Handheld sparklers

·        The contrast of red and white stripes on the United States flag (for example, if you are stood close to a big flag at a parade)

·        Strobe lighting at nightclubs

·        Multiple camera flashes (from photographers at parades/parties)

Even if you don’t have PSE, other triggers, such as tiredness, alcohol or even loud music could also be a risk for people with epilepsy.

Reduce risks from Independence Day fireworks with epilepsy

With a little planning and preparation, you can enjoy 4th July without having to worry about seizures. If you have any doubts, speak to your epilepsy doctor.

·        Keep your distance from displays

If you have PSE, it is useful to know that seizures are most likely to be triggered when the flashing lights take up your entire field of vision. If you are standing at the front of a crowd watching fireworks up close, it’s going to be hard to block them out - even if you shut your eyes. However, if you’re stood further back, you can still enjoy the display, but it’s easier to look away and less of your ‘visual field’ will be full of flashing lights.

·        Cover one eye

Another technique is to cover one eye with the palm of your hand. This reduces the amount of visual field that will be filled and makes a seizure less likely.

 ·        Take your medication

Make sure you take your seizure medication on 4th July. This will ensure your brain is less likely to be affected by flashing lights, patterns on flags or other triggers.

Happy Independence Day!

4th July is a wonderful celebration and a great day to spend time with friends, family and neighbors. For some people with epilepsy, there is a small risk because of the link between PSE, fireworks and seizures. However, by taking some simple precautions, you can enjoy Independence Day without any worries.

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