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Sunny days pose risk of 'flicker illness' for a few airlifted patients

diatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center, is a world expert on photosensitivity, including epileptic seizures caused by flashing lights of video games and television. Erba says that he also encounters patients affected by a similar flickering effect caused by sunlight filtering through a row of trees as the patients are riding in cars.

"Photosensitive patients may twitch, then jerk, and finally, if nothing is done to stop it, have a seizure," Erba said. "Its a tricky business, this photosensitivity, because it can exist without a patient having spontaneous seizures, as the paper states. This makes prevention even more difficult, especially since routine EEG tests are not always carried out properly in the lab and too often, false negative results occur."

Cushman and co-author Douglas Floccare, M.D., M.P.H., of the Maryland State Police Aviation Command researched how often this sort of light-induced epilepsy occurs in patients, even pilots, with no history of seizures especially in aircraft on sunny days. The team found several photosensitive epilepsy studies and various reports from over the course of decades, even centuries, both on ground and in flight. Together, these pieces create a picture that suggests the condition may be more common and difficult to diagnose than originally thought.

For instance, Cushman highlights second century writings from the Roman novelist and orator Apuleius, who noted that the spinning of a potters wheel could send onlookers into seizures. Cushman also describes an array of other non-whirling stimuli that have been documented over time to induce seizures, including music, hot water, working with fractions, and even tooth brushing.

The most common photosensitive stimulus is television, Cushman said, and resulting seizures are often dubbed instances of "video game" or "space invader" epilepsy, a condition that Erba studies and has made recommendations to help prevent.


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Contact: Becky Jones
Rebecca_jones@urmc.rochester.edu
585-275-8490
University of Rochester Medical Center
5-Mar-2007


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