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Can Excessive Gadget Use Cause a Seizure? Doctors Weigh In
PHOTO BY Juhan Sonin/Flickr Creative Commons
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  • Last week, a Facebook post by mom Maricon Molvizar Collamar about her 6-year-old’s screen time went viral. Shared over 250,000 times and covered by several news sites, it detailed her daughter Mikayla's first seizure episode that was allegedly caused by the preschooler’s excessive gadget use.   

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    In her post, Maricon recalled that on the night of the incident, she found her daughter lying on the floor, terrified, and shaking uncontrollably. Mikayla, still trembling, told her mom repeatedly that she couldn’t move her left arm. “Napansin ko na tabingi yung right side ng lips niya at bulol siya magsalita.” Alarmed, Maricon rushed her daughter to a hospital’s emergency room where she was soon confined. 

    “Chineck si Mikayla, nagbigay ng physical tests, tapos sinabihan kami na need ng EEG at MRI dahil nagsuffer si Mikayla ng focal seizure. Inalam namin ang naging cause, ‘di masagot ng [pediatrician] ng maayos kung bakit na-trigger dahil wala pang EEG at MRI pero mostly the reason is excessive use of gadgets,” wrote Marcon.

    The results of the EEG and MRI, however, came back negative, which prompted Mikayla's neurosurgeon and pediatric neurologist to request for another MRI to be conducted in two week's time. In the meantime, Mikayla was given medication for seizure prevention and was advised to limit gadget use to two hours a day.

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    Maricon, who is an entreprenuer with no household help, admitted that she had let her daughter have free reign over her tablet since the start of summer break. “Mas nabigyan ko ng oras ang projects ko kaya na neglect ko si Mikayla at hinayaan ko gumamit ng iPad kasi alam kong wala namang mangyayari sa kanya ng dahil lang sa iPad,” she wrote.

    She wanted parents to learn from her scary experience. “Kaya po ako nagpost ay para maiwasan niyo ito dahil sa totoo lang nakakatakot ang pangyayari. Para po maiwasan natin sa mga anak natin ang ganitong klaseng sakit, i-minimal use natin sila sa mga gadgets, tv or computer at pagpupuyat.

    “Hindi ko din po sinasabi sa post kong ito na kung ang anak ko ay nagka-seizure ay meron din ang anak niyo. Ang sa akin lang po ay iwasan natin silang gumamit ng matagalan ng mga gadgets. Ito po ay para sa kalusugan ng ating mga anak,” the mom wrote. 

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    We asked doctors how likely can excessive gadget use cause focal seizures. Dr. Loudella V. Calotes-Castillo, a pediatric neurologist and board member of the Child Neurology Society of the Philippines, clarified to Smart Parenting, "Gadgets, per se, do not cause seizures. To date, there is no direct association with gadget use and seizures. 

    "However, certain seizures can be triggered -- but not caused -- by blinking lights or flashes of lights. Fatigue from excessive gadget use triggers seizures as well." 

    Neurologist and psychiatrist Dr. Criscely Go, who holds consultations at De Los Santos Medical Center, agreed but added that more tests need to be conducted to find the true cause of the seizure. Epilepsy could be one of them. 

    “There are many kinds of epilepsy syndromes especially among kids. Some epilepsies can be quite photosensitive -- very sensitive to light -- which may be the case here. This could have been Mikayla's first ever attack provoked by the lights from the gadget,” said Dr. Go. 

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    Interviewed for the TV program Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho, pediatric neurologist Dr. Cherie Tecson-Delos Santos explained how a focal seizure is a possible “manifestation of epilepsy” and what Mikayla experienced was common with children who have the condition. 

    “Ang ibang bata after nila magkombulsiyon, lalo na yung mga focal seizure, nagkakaroon sila ng tinatawag na Todd's Paralysis. Ito yung temporary or panandaliang pagkaparalisa ng isang parte ng katawan. Isa talaga siyang phenomenon na associated sa seizures lalo na sa mga batang may epilepsy,” said Dr. Tecson-Delos Santos. 

    What are the common causes of seizures? Dr. Calotes-Castillo says it differs by age groups. “Focal seizures in babies and younger children are usually caused by a congenital abnormality of the brain, infection, and tumors.”

    (According to Dr. Calotes-Castillo, focal seizures originate from a specific part of the brain. It usually manifests with a localized hand jerk or twitch with or without impaired awareness. Generalized seizures from both sides of the brain can appear as jerking or stiffening of all limbs with impaired awareness.)

    Even if gadgets do not cause seizures, doctors still stress the importance of monitored gadget use in children. “There are still problems that can result from it, like behavioral issues,” said Dr. Go.  

    Recent guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that children below 18 months old should not get any screen time, and children 2 to 5 years old should only be allowed a maximum of one hour of screen time composed of high-quality educational children's programs. Find the full AAP recommendations here

    For children with health conditions that can cause a seizure, Dr. Calotes-Castillo advised parents to seek consultation. “It is best that families should discuss with their pediatrician or pediatric neurologist if their children's seizure type is particularly provoked by flashes or blinking lights.”

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