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December 8, 2020   •  By Emma Breedon and Dr Hilary Jones

How to Stay Safe at Christmas with Epilepsy


Christmas is a time of joy, where families come together and celebrate the festive season with their loved ones. Nobody saw it coming, but Christmas 2020 will be so different for many of us this year. Some family traditions will have to wait until 2021, and we’ll have to choose carefully which family members we’re able to see due to social distancing.

With a heavy feeling of negativity in the air for the majority of 2020, more and more people have dusted off their decorations earlier in an attempt to encourage a spark of joy.

Christmas gives us a warm feeling in our bellies. Still, it can also bring pressure and stress, especially for those who have epilepsy or who are caring for a loved one.

It’s a magical time of year, but there are some hazards and triggers to consider, including Christmas lights and decorations.

What Is Photosensitive Epilepsy?

Photosensitive epilepsy is a condition where seizures are triggered by lights that are flashing or flickering. It is estimated that about 3% of those people who have epilepsy have this condition. This type of epilepsy is more commonly found in children and adolescents, particularly those who have generalized epilepsy or other epilepsy syndromes, including Jeavon’s syndrome (epilepsy with myoclonia) or juvenile myoclonic epilepsy. As people age, these episodes become less frequent, with only a few cases occurring in the mid-20s.

Why Are Christmas Decorations a Risk for Those Living with Epilepsy?

One of the biggest triggers for those people with epilepsy is Christmas lights, especially those lights that are flickering or flashing.

We’re bombarded with Christmas displays as soon as we step foot outside the door. While you can control the lights you use to decorate your own home, the lights used on display at shops or out in public don’t always get set without thinking about those with seizures.

People with epilepsy are sensitive to 16-25 Hz frequency lights. This concern includes not just those lights put up around the house but also Christmas trees that are pre-lit, as there are no regulations for these lights.

What Are Other Triggers Around the Festive Season for Seizures?

Christmas lights are not the only triggers for those people with epilepsy at Christmas time. There are several others that you should be aware of to avoid any issues during the holidays. Stress can also be a significant trigger.

When you get so stressed and overwhelmed because of the holiday, you may forget the self-care that helps you feel better. Avoid drinking, and be sure that you never forget your medicine. It can also be great for you to take some time out of the business schedule to meditate when needed, continue a healthy routine, including exercise, and practice your breathing.

Young girl takes a sip of hot chocolate at the Christmas market

It’s also vital that you stay healthy to control seizures. Getting sick, especially with a high fever, can trigger seizures. It would help if you took the necessary precautions, including regularly washing your hands and avoiding spending time with sick people.

Other potential triggers at Christmas time include:

· Lightbulbs that cause flickering in the space

· Specific patterns, including those that have high contrast (like stripes of white and black)

· Strobe lights

· Flashing novelty items or flashing toys

· Certain television shows and video games

Knowing these triggers can help avoid any serious problems during the holidays. Staying safe at the holidays is crucial for you to have a more joyous experience.

How to Stay Safe at Christmas

Staying safe at Christmas time doesn’t have to be complicated if you have epilepsy. Several tips can help you ensure that you have the safest holiday possible.

· Be sure that you get an adequate amount of sleep and eat regular, healthy meals. It’s also important to remember that alcohol can be a potential trigger for epilepsy. Not only is it a trigger, but it can also decrease the effectiveness of your medication.

· Do what you can to minimise your stress as much as possible. Cook what you can ahead of time to reduce last-minute cooking mayhem. Start shopping early to avoid the crowds, especially during the pandemic. Avoid Christmas shopping at the busiest hours and pace yourself so that you don’t get overwhelmed.

· If Christmas lights are a problem for you, you can try covering one eye, reducing any photosensitivity issues you may have.

Stress is a natural part of the season. As great as Christmas is, it is also one of the most stressful times of the year.

There should be an emphasis on doing as much as possible to reduce your stress levels. One way to do this is to make sure that you get as much sleep as possible. Another thing that you can do is to focus on meditation and exercise. Exercise can be one of the most effective ways for you to reduce stress.

Another way that you can reduce your stress levels is by getting better about your time management. Doing whatever you can ahead of time and scheduling your holidays relieves as much stress as possible. The more you have to do at the last minute, the more stressed you will be. Better manage your time so that you can have fewer (or nothing) left to do before the holiday.

You may consider investing in an epilepsy alarm such as the Embrace2 by Empatica. This discreet and lightweight wrist alarm notifies caregivers to a tonic-clonic seizure, ensuring the wearer gets help as soon as possible.

This Christmas, we’re giving away 3 Embrace2 epilepsy alarms through our Facebook and Instagram pages. All you need to do is follow us and tag a friend in the comments to enter.

About The Author

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Emma Breedon

Emma joined Epilepsy Alarms UK in its infancy and has been vital in shaping the service into what it is today. As Customer Care Manager, Emma epitomises the company's core values and provides an ethic... Read More

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Dr Hilary's Guide to living with Epilepsy

Dr Hilary Jones

Dr Hilary Jones MBE is an English GP with over 40 years of experience practicing as a medical doctor in England. Dr Hilary Jones earned his medical degree in 1976 from The Royal Free Hospital in L... Read More

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