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Music Festival Lighting ‘Can Trigger Epileptic Fits’

June 14, 2019

Strobe lighting at music festivals can increase the risk of epileptic seizures, researchers have warned.

The Dutch team said even people who have not been diagnosed with epilepsy might be affected.

Their study was prompted by the case of a 20-year-old, with no history of epilepsy, who suddenly collapsed and had a fit at a festival.

The Epilepsy Society said festivals should limit lighting to the recommended levels.

Epilepsy is a condition that affects the brain. There are many types, and it can start at any age.

Around 3% of people with epilepsy are photosensitive, which means their seizures are triggered by flashing or flickering lights, or patterns.

The Health and Safety Executive recommends strobe lighting should be kept to a maximum of four hertz (four flashes per second) in clubs and at public events.

‘Life-affirming’

The researchers studied electronic dance music festivals because they often use strobe lighting.

They looked at data on people who needed medical care among the 400,000 visitors to 28 day and night-time dance music festivals across the Netherlands in 2015. The figures included 241,000 people who were exposed to strobe lights at night-time festivals.

Thirty people at night-time events with strobe lighting had a seizure, compared with nine attending daytime events.

The team, led by Newel Salet of the VU Medical Centre in Amsterdam, writing in BMJ Open, said other factors could increase the risk of seizures.

But they added: “Regardless of whether stroboscopic lights are solely responsible or whether sleep deprivation and/or substance abuse also play a role, the appropriate interpretation is that large [electronic dance music] festivals, especially during the night-time, probably cause at least a number of people per event to suffer epileptic seizures.”

They advise anyone with photosensitive epilepsy to either avoid such events or to take precautionary measures, such as getting enough sleep and not taking drugs, not standing close to the stage, and leaving quickly if they experience any “aura” effects.

Mr Salet told BBC News: “If a person has no predisposition for epilepsy, then factors like strobe lighting will not have any effect. However, most people are unaware of this predisposition they might have: more than a couple of cases explicitly reported this to be the first time they experienced an epileptic fit.”

Clare Pelham, chief executive at the Epilepsy Society, said: “The festival season has become something of a rite of passage. We would encourage festival organisers to at least warn visitors that they are using strobe lighting so that festival-goers can decide whether it will be safe for them to attend before buying their tickets.

“But it would be really life-affirming, in these days when we aspire to inclusivity, if organisers could do the responsible thing and keep the strobe lighting at a rate that should not pose a risk.

“The festival season is all about having a good time, but that should include everyone together, in a safe and supportive environment.”

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Matthew Williams permalink
    June 14, 2019 7:05 pm

    This is such nonsense. This is like saying we should limit the speed of all motorways to 30 because some grannies cant handle driving fast. As a lighting engineer I say this, the use of strobes has to be been warned then the way I used to do it was to flash the strobe a little bit and dim for a while with a GAP to warn people that a STROBE IS COMING then I would ruthlessly use the strobe. The crowds love it. You will always get one who will come and say YOU SHOULD BE USING THAT STROBE, to which my stock reply would come why do you think they sell them then, if you dont like it go to the chill out areas with lighting that suits you more. Its like asking a Thrash metal group to play softer because it seems to hectic and upsetting. Really this is a pathetic posting article – yes we all know strobes and flashing lights can cuase seizures in some people. So what – no lighting at all at gigs just to serve the needs of one individual? Accidents happen… take the person suffering epilepsy out and call them an ambulance – they learn that they have a problem and can stay away in future, Job done.. then the show can carry on. Most of us like it that way, nice and lasery, strobey, smokey and LOUD.

    • June 14, 2019 7:09 pm

      Do you realise that a seizure can kill?

      • Matthew Williams permalink
        June 14, 2019 10:41 pm

        Cars kill. Do we ban them? You could as easily die from tripping on the pavement and falling infront of a bus. So we ban busses and pavements. Why should the enjoyment of music and lights at a live event be toned down to quiet and no interesting lighting just so one person simply MIGHT be better off whilst the rest are suffering boredom. Should we stop people swimming in the sea because someone might drown and die… and yes much like your concept of a seizure can kill – so can a million things and we dont ban any of them. If you cant stand the heat get out of the kitchen… if you think you may be at risk of seizures then dont go to raves or live festivals, or seek out the venues which say “No strobes” or “flashing lighting”, even if you do not know you have a condition. However if you choose to go to an event where these things are present because people enjoy them you only have yourself to blame, or perhaps you should sue your parents for making you that way.

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