Summer movie safety: What parents of kids with epilepsy should know

People sitting in a dark theater

If you’re headed to the movies over this holiday week, a word of caution about the popular Disney sequel Incredibles 2. Earlier this month, the Epilepsy Foundation issued a statement about the film, warning that some people have had seizures while watching the movie. In response, some movie theaters have posted warnings about the film.

Dr. Phillip Pearl, neurologist and director of Boston Children’s Epilepsy Center, discusses why some movies can cause seizures and what parents can do to protect their kids with epilepsy.

Why do some movies cause seizures?

This issue harks back to December 1997 when nearly 700 children were sent to emergency rooms in Japan because of flashing lights during an episode of the popular Pokemon animated television series. We know that 3-5 percent of people with epilepsy have “photosensitivity,” meaning that flashing strobe lights can induce seizures. Photosensitivity can also be caused by sudden bright lights. This is more common in epilepsies that have a genetic cause and some other types of epilepsy.

Are people with epilepsy the only ones at risk?  

Some people who don’t know they have epilepsy or who have never had a seizure may also be at risk for having a seizure caused by flashing lights or sudden bright lights. This is most likely to occur at the red wavelength of the rainbow. Sunglasses, especially those that filter out red light, are recommended for people with photosensitive seizures who are going from a dark to light setting.

How can I protect my child who has epilepsy?

If your child has a history of generalized seizures, especially light-sensitive convulsions, avoid this particular movie and others with this type of warning. These warnings are unusual and not associated with most movies. In general, it is OK for kids with epilepsy to attend movies, but have your child look away from flashing lights if there is a sense that a seizure is starting. And if your child with generalized epilepsy is seeing a movie during the day, have them wear sunglasses when emerging from the theater into the bright light.

What should I do if I think my child has had a seizure?

If you suspect a seizure, stay calm and help your child lie down to avoid falls and injuries. Do not give your child water or put anything else in the child’s mouth. Call 911 if this is a first-time seizure. If there is a known history of seizures and your child recovers within five minutes, notify your child’s doctor.

About our expert: Phillip Pearl, MD, is director of the Epilepsy Center at Boston Children’s Hospital and the William G. Lennox Chair and professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School.





Learn more about the Boston Children’s Epilepsy Center,