Extrinsic reflex epilepsy causes seizures when a person is exposed to external triggers like flashing lights or taking a hot bath. Extrinsic reflex epilepsy is further defined based on the sensory perception system it affects.

Another type of reflex epilepsy is internal reflex epilepsy. Unlike extrinsic epilepsy, higher cognitive functions can trigger a seizure in people with internal reflex epilepsy. Feeling strong emotions or solving a math problem are examples of internal triggers.

Read on to learn more about extrinsic reflex epilepsy, including types, possible causes, diagnosis, treatment, and outlook.

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Extrinsic reflex epilepsy is a type of reflex epilepsy that causes seizures when a person encounters an external stimulus.

An external stimulus is anything outside of the body that sensory receptors in a person’s body detect like light, touch, temperature, and sound.

With extrinsic reflex epilepsy, these usually harmless environmental stimuli may induce a seizure.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, around 85% of the seizures people experience are tonic-clonic seizures. During this type of seizure, a person may fall unconscious and have muscle jerks or spasms.

Learn about what to do when someone is unconscious.

The specific environmental trigger a person responds to often determines the type of epilepsy they have.

Below are some examples of different types of extrinsic reflex epilepsy.

Photosensitive epilepsy

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, around 3% of people with epilepsy, experience seizures in response to flashing lights or specific visual patterns. This type of epilepsy is more common in adolescents and children.

If someone has photosensitive epilepsy, making certain lifestyle changes can help reduce their exposure to triggers. Examples include:

  • avoiding flashing or strobing lights
  • watching television in a well-lit room to reduce any contrasting light effects
  • reducing the brightness of the screen when playing video games
  • taking regular screen breaks
  • using flicker-free monitors
  • turning off autoplay on social media apps

Epilepsy with eyelid myoclonia (EEM)

Closing the eyes or seeing flashing lights can induce a seizure in people with EEM, or Jeavons syndrome.

This is a very rare type of epilepsy and is more common in people with a family history of epilepsy. In fact, up to 80% of children with EEM have a family member with epilepsy, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.

People can experience different types of EEM seizures. The most common involves repetitive jerking movements of the eyelids or eyeballs and occasionally the head.

Eating epilepsy

Some people experience seizures after eating. This rare form of epilepsy tends to affect males more than females and typically starts in people who are around 11–20 years of age.

A 2023 case study recorded a person developing tonic-clonic convulsions within a few hours of eating “greasy” pork. Moreover, when they ate pork the next day, they experienced a tonic-clonic seizure.

Musicogenic epilepsy

People with musicogenic epilepsy have seizures when they hear music. A 2015 research review indicates that the type of music that induces seizures differs between people, but the seizure symptoms they experience may be similar. The temporal lobe is the area of the brain where these seizures tend to start.

Hot water and bathing epilepsy

Hot water and bathing epilepsy diagnoses are more common in children. However, these types of epilepsy are distinct.

With bathing epilepsy, pouring water on a person could trigger a seizure, regardless of the temperature. However, with hot water epilepsy, temperature alone causes seizure symptoms.

Touch epilepsy

Skin friction, pricking sensations, touching, tapping, and tooth brushing can trigger a seizure in people with touch epilepsy. Researchers think that some individuals have a hypersensitive trigger zone in a certain area of their body, and when that zone receives stimulation, it causes a seizure.

What causes extrinsic reflex epilepsy is not clear.

However, according to the Epilepsy Foundation, certain populations are more at risk of developing some forms of reflex epilepsy than others.

For instance, research suggests more females than males tend to have photosensitive epilepsy. Whereas the opposite is more common for eating epilepsy.

Additionally, some forms of reflex epilepsy are more common among people with a family history of the condition, which suggests there may be a genetic component. However, further research is necessary.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, if a person is experiencing symptoms that could be a sign of epilepsy, their doctor will usually start with reviewing their family medical history and conducting a physical examination.

Next, they will likely order an EEG, which measures brain function by detecting spikes in electrical activity. They may also order an MRI scan.

To rule out other medical conditions that cause seizures, a doctor may determine that a person needs blood tests.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, treatment initally involves lifestyle changes that include avoiding triggers.

However, this can be difficult for individuals with some types of epilepsy, especially when a person is very sensitive to light. Getting enough sleep and reducing stress (and excitement) levels may also reduce the risk of seizures recurring.

In combination with lifestyle changes, a person may also require medication, which may include:

Learn about different epilepsy medications and their side effects.

When a person’s reflex epilepsy is well managed, they can lead a full life. Usually, a person can manage their condition with a doctor-prescribed combination of lifestyle changes and medication.

Occasionally, some people eventually stop having seizures because they grow out of them. It is important to note that this process often happens over many years and may depend on how early they receive a diagnosis.

For example, according to the Epilepsy Foundation, as many as 75% of people with photosensitive epilepsy who do not receive treatment during childhood or adolescence will likely continue to have seizures after age 25 years.

Extrinsic reflex epilepsy is a condition that can cause seizures when a person comes into contact with a particular stimulus in their environment such as hot water or flashing lights.

The form of extrinsic reflex epilepsy a person has depends on the stimulus that induces the seizures. If, for instance, a person has a seizure when they hear a particular piece of music, they may have musicogenic epilepsy.

To manage and reduce the risk of seizures, a doctor will likely recommend a person make lifestyle changes, such as avoiding their epilepsy triggers. They may also prescribe medication.