What is Sunflower Syndrome? 

  • This form of photosensitive epilepsy, also known as Sunflower Syndrome, is a rare form of epilepsy that affects girls (75%) more than boys.
  • The seizure is caused by electrical discharges in the brain. They are a form of photosensitive epilepsy. 
  • The seizures may happen when the person does a specific thing - in this case when they look at a bright source of light. For example, when a person waves their hand in front of their eyes, a flickering pattern may happen that triggers a seizure. 
  • The age of onset varies, but it usually presents between 3 and 10 years of age.
  • It can affect normal or intellectually disabled children.
  • No cause for this form of epilepsy has been found.

What do the seizures in this form of photosensitive epilepsy look like?

  • The seizures in Sunflower Syndrome are characterized by absence and/or myoclonic seizures.
  • Rare generalized tonic-clonic seizures may occur following the absence or myoclonic seizure. When generalized tonic-clonic seizures occur, it is usually by accident.
  • These seizures commonly occur when the child looks at a bright light source, like the sun, and waves their hand in front of their eyes.
  • The seizures can also happen when the child repeatedly opens and closes their eyes, when someone makes the television picture roll or quickly changes television channels while the child is watching from a close distance, or when the child is playing video games.
  • These seizures may also be related to tension and anxiety.

Is Sunflower Syndrome inherited?

The cause of this type of photosensitive epilepsy (Sunflower Syndrome) is unknown. Family history of seizures or epilepsy is not common.

How is self-induced photosensitive epilepsy diagnosed?

Your doctor will take a full history and examine your child. Your doctor will order an EEG (electroencephalogram) and in many instances a prolonged EEG or video EEG is required.

  • The EEG in children with Sunflower Syndrome is abnormal. EEG usually shows generalized spike wave discharges that are seen primarily during the events of self-induced seizures and may also be seen during photic (light) stimulation.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans are usually normal.

How is this form of photosensitive epilepsy (Sunflower Syndrome) treated?

Seizures in children with Sunflower Syndrome can be treated with anti-seizure medications and with special eye glasses.

  • Medications often used are valproic acid (Depakote/Depakene) and levetiracetam (Keppra). If valproic acid is used in a female, it's important to talk to the neurologist about potential problems when taking this during pregnancy. All girls and women of child-bearing potential should talk about use of this medicine with their doctors and nurses. Learn about contraception and ways to prevent and ways to prevent problems during pregnancy.
  • Other medications that have been used to treat this epilepsy include benzodiazepines like clobazam (Onfi) or clonazepam, and topiramate (Topamax). Medications at times have been used in combination. There are reports showing fenfluramine may help self-induced epilepsy. If the child is diagnosed with anxiety, some patients have benefitted from using anti-anxiety medications in combination with anti-seizure medications.
  • Children with this form of epilepsy will benefit from using commercially available Zeiss (Z1) blue lenses. In many instances the episodes may disappear or reduce significantly when using these lenses.

What is the outlook for persons with Sunflower Syndrome?

  • It appears that seizures in children and adults with this form of photosensitive epilepsy (Sunflower Syndrome) tend to improve.
  • This type of epilepsy tends to be chronic requiring seizure medication throughout your life.
  • Seizures are generally well controlled with medications and the use of Z1 blue lenses.
  • If seizures are difficult to control because of anxiety, depression, or other conditions, a psychiatric or behavioral intervention may be needed.
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Authored By: 
Angel Hernandez MD
Authored Date: 
Reviewed By: 
Patty Obsorne Shafer RN, MN
Monday, April 29, 2019