What is Visual Stress?
Some people with no apparent problems with their eyes, report that it is “uncomfortable” to look at certain patterns – including a page of words. Some people find that the words appear to move, wobble or flicker while others see colours or patterns in the words. This tends to make reading for any length of time uncomfortable and can lead to eyestrain, headaches or even migraines.
The image below simulates one of the symptoms often reported by those with Visual Stress.For reasons that are still not well understood, these disturbing effects can often be reduced or even eliminated by placing a sheet of coloured plastic (an overlay) over the page or using coloured lenses. Interestingly, the colour required to achieve this varies from one person to another and the colour can be different for overlays and lenses.
For some the benefits may be slight but for others the effects can be dramatic, significantly increasing reading speed and fluency and reducing headaches and eyestrain.
A school teacher in New Zealand (Olive Meares) and and educational psychologist in the US (Helen Irlen) were among the first to report this phenomenon so the condition has become known as Meares-Irlen syndrome or simply Visual Stress.
For a review of the history and scientific studies related to Visual Stress, click here.
We have also developed a range of software to help identify those who are likely to benefit from colour. The software is used throughout the world by teachers, educational psychologists and eye care professionals (optometrists and orthoptists).
As a company we are dedicated to making solutions for Visual Stress accessible to all by offering high-quality, evidence-based products at affordable prices.
Answers to some frequently asked questions are given below.
Meares-Irlen Syndrome, (also known as Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome, Irlen Syndrome or Visual Stress) is the term used to describe a condition characterised by a variety of symptoms which occur when looking ar certain patterns including rows of text. Some people with the condition report that the words appear to move, wobble or flicker while others report seeing illusory colours and patterns in the text. These symptoms make reading uncomfortable and even unpleasant and can affect reading speed and fluency. Some sufferers may also experience headaches or migraines after reading for a period of time.
There are a number of theories about why this happens but there is growing evidence that it is due to nerve cells in the area of the brain responsible for vision, becoming over-stimulated by certain patterns.
For reasons that are poorly understood, the symptoms are often reduced by changing the background colour to a colour other than white. The optimum colour seems to vary from one person to another.
Meares-Irlen can cause a wide range of symptoms with many people reporting more than one of the following:
- Blurring of print.
- ‘Squashed up’ print .
- Movement of print – wiggling or vibration of letters.
- Letters muddling or words ‘falling off the page’.
- Letters changing or doubling.
- Letters fading or becoming darker.
- Patterns appearing in the print.
- Illusions of colour – blobs of colour moving on the page.
- Nausea, discomfort or even pain caused by glare from the page.
- Rivers of light snaking through the text (often described as waterfalls).
- Headaches, tired or sore eyes.
These symptoms range from mild to severe and tend to reduce reading speed and fluency.
People with Meares-Irlen syndrome often show one or more of the following signs:
- Moving closer to or away from the page or frequently changing position.
- Rubbing eyes.
- Excessive blinking or looking away from the page.
- Tiring quickly. Concentration may be poor and attention span may be short.
- Poor assimilation of reading text.
- Losing place easily.
- Poor spelling.
- Misreading words.
- Speed or rate of reading is slower than expected for intelligence level.
If you have noticed that a child is doing any of the above, it is usually a good idea to get their eyes tested by an Optometrist to rule out various other causes – it may be that they simply need glasses or eye exercises.
However, if the behaviour persists, they may have Meares-Irlen syndrome.
It is very difficult to know exactly how many people suffer from this condition because the symptoms range from mild to severe and many people are unaware that they have this condition – “I have always been a slow reader”.
However, studies have shown that at least 20% of the population get some benefit from coloured overlays, and 5% read significantly faster with a coloured overlay.
Meares-Irlen can be a significant disadvantage when learning to read and children with the condition may be wrongly labelled as dyslexic or poor readers.
Some people find that the symptoms of Meares-Irlen decrease as they get older. For others, the condition is with them for life.
There is no cure at present, but the symptoms can often be reduced and sometimes eliminated by using a coloured overlay or coloured lenses. The colour required to minimise symptoms varies from one person to the next so it is important that you try a range of different colours.
The optimum colour can also be different for overlays and tinted lenses and can vary over time so it is worth rechecking from time to time.
Coloured overlays are rectangles of thin coloured plastic. Coloured overlays are designed to be placed over a page of a book or any other written material.
Coloured overlays are available from a number of companies. The ReadEZ overlays are available in 12 colours (a wider choice than all other suppliers). The colour and saturation of each overlay has been carefully selected by a team of vision scientists. The overlays are made of durable acetate and come in A5 sheets making them ideal for use with books and pages of any size.
Coloured overlays are great for reading but of course you cannot write through them! Overlays are also no good for reading from the whiteboard or looking at a computer or tablet screen.
This is where the ReadEZ clip-ons come in. If you wear glasses, the clip-ons simply clip over the spectacle frame and you can enjoy the benefits of your preferred colour whatever you are doing.
The ReadEZ clip-ons are avilable in the same 12 colours as the overlays although the optimum colour can be different for lenses and overlays.