Children with epilepsy do not appear to face an increased risk for seizures while watching 3-D TV, a new German-Austrian study suggests.
However, the results did reveal that about one in five of these children is vulnerable to other unpleasant reactions when viewing 3-D television, including nausea, headaches and dizziness.
"Normal people have a very low risk to get a seizure while watching 3-D," explained study author Dr Herbert Plischke, executive director of the University of Munich's Generation Research Program. In contrast, he noted that people with epilepsy - particularly children - could be expected to have a "higher vulnerability" in terms of overall seizure risk in such a setting.
However, among a group of young people with epilepsy, "we could not see any provoked seizure which was caused by 3-D," Plischke said.
He and his colleagues from the University of Salzburg in Austria are scheduled to present their findings at the American Epilepsy Society annual meeting in Baltimore.
As a concept, 3-D technology is hardly a cutting-edge idea, harkening back more than half a century to the 1950s Vincent Price classic film "House of Wax". But the experience of donning special glasses to view an "extra-dimensional" effect has undergone a cinematic renaissance in recent years, led by the box-office success of the movie "Avatar".
Jumping on the bandwagon, TV manufacturers have sought to bring the experience right into the living room, with TV sets that are hard-wired to provide 3-D viewing of properly formatted shows.
The move has raised concerns over how the technology may impact various audiences. Recently, some researchers cautioned that nearly one-third of all viewers may be prone to experiencing headaches and/or eye fatigue when viewing a 3-D movie because of poor eye coordination. The resulting strain, they said, could prompt an unpleasant experience equivalent to that of seasickness.
People with epilepsy are a more specific worry, given their sensitivity to the flashing lights and red and blue light alterations contained in certain TV programming and video games. As a result, some TV manufacturers (such as Samsung) have published public warnings, alerting viewers to the potential risk for epileptic seizures or stroke when viewing 3-D technology.
Against that backdrop, the current investigation set out to assess the impact of 3-D on children with epilepsy viewing the technology on TV.
The team focused on 100 children (average age 12) who had epilepsy or were deemed to be at risk for epilepsy.
All the kids underwent a standard test for photosensitivity. Each was then asked to wear 3-D glasses and sit about six-and-a-half feet away from a 50-inch plasma 3-D TV.
During 15 minutes of viewing, only one child experienced a seizure, and that particular child was noted as being prone to routinely experiencing three to four seizures per day.
Symptoms of nausea, headache and dizziness went up during both photosensitivity testing and 3-D TV-watching (in 15% and 20% of cases, respectively). But the near total absence of seizures, combined with the benign results of EEG readings taken during sensitivity testing and 3-D viewing, led the team to conclude that 3-D TV viewing posed little risk to children with epilepsy.
The team suggested that seizure risk is probably more a function of differences in TV content rather than TV technology, with certain patterns, colors and flickering images raising the threat of seizure more than 3-D images.
Dr Orrin Devinsky, director of NYU Langone Medical Center's Epilepsy Center, agreed.
"It sounds perfectly in line with what I might expect," he said. "If there was to be a problem, it would be with the content, namely flashing imagery. And that would be a present concern in 2-D or 3-D."
"So I wouldn't expect 3-D TV to be a specific issue," said Devinsky, who is also a professor of neurology, neurosurgery and psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine. "I wouldn't say that no child in ten thousand would have a problem. But I would expect it to be very rare, if it occurs at all."
Research presented at meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
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