Meares-Irlen syndrome, commonly known as Visual Stress, is a sensitivity to visual patterns, particularly stripes. In some cases it can cause visual perceptual problems, which interfere with reading, and the symptoms can occur despite normal vision, so it is often falsely diagnosed as dyslexia.

The symptoms of Meares-Irlen syndrome include:

  • Movement of printed text
  • Blurring of print
  • Letters appearing to change size or shape
  • Patterns appearing in the print (sometimes described as rivers or worms)
  • Halos of colour surrounding letters or words
  • Reading quickly becomes tiring
  • Headaches or visual discomfort
  • Red, sore, watery eyes

The condition can cause frustration and low self-esteem in children who are underachieving due to Visual Stress, so early diagnosis is paramount. The longer it takes to identify and remedy Visual Stress, the greater the loss of confidence that can result. Look out for the following signs that your child may be suffering from Meares-Irlen syndrome.

  • Moves closer to or further away from the book
  • Moves book around on the desk
  • Fidgets continuously
  • Uses finger as a marker on the page
  • Skips words or lines
  • Frequently re-reads the same line
  • Rubs eyes or blinks frequently when reading
  • Poor comprehension of reading content 
  • Frustration and low self-esteem

Visual Stress or dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a term for reading problems that are not due to poor teaching. It is often associated with spelling difficulty. Visual Stress is NOT the same as dyslexia but is more common in those who are dyslexic. Nevertheless, it does affect non-dyslexics too. People who avoid reading because of Visual Stress are frequently mis-diagnosed as dyslexic. It is important, therefore, that the existence of Visual Stress is tested for at an early stage. Once the condition has been treated, the remaining problems are more easily dealt with.

Treating Visual Stress with colour

Migraine attacks have many triggers, including stress, particular foods and hormones. About 40% of migraine attacks may be induced by visual factors such as flickering light, patterns or reading. Recent research has found that these attacks may be helped by wearing precision tinted lenses.

The effect of colour on Visual Stress has been researched by a team of neuroscientists in the United States. Working on the hypothesis that the perceptual problems are caused by a hyperactivation of the visual cortex, they have used brain imaging to show that a suppression of this hyperactivation can be brought about by fitting a patient with individually selected precision tinted lenses.

Syptoms of other neurological conditions, such as autism, MS, ME and Parkinson’s, have also been shown to reduce with the application of a precise colour.

A solution for Meares-Irlen syndrome

Coloured overlays are widely used by teachers in schools throughout the UK to help children with Visual Stress to read. This principle can be extended to the wearing of coloured lenses, which enhance the user’s ability to write as well as read and can be used to reduce glare. Coloured lenses are also much more convenient than overlays for board and computer work.

The colour must be precisely selected to suit the individual, using a machine called an Intuitive Colorimeter. A full eye examination is necessary before prescribing precision tinted lenses and the procedure is best undertaken by an optometrist who also specialises in colorimetry. The examination comprises the following steps:

1. Eye Examination

Every child who displays problems with reading should be referred to an optometrist for a full vision test. It is recommended that the chosen practice should also specialise in using the Intuitive Colorimeter. If a refractive prescription is required (eg for long or short sight) then this can be incorporated in the coloured lenses.

2. Overlay Assessment

An assessment with overlays may already have been carried out in school. If not, an optometrist can carry it out. The optometrist may suggest the patient use an overlay and return within a few weeks, noting any improvements that result. Alternatively, in cases where the benefit from an overlay is clear, the optometrist may suggest moving directly to testing with the Intuitive Colorimeter.

3. Colorimetry Assessment

If overlays prove beneficial the optometrist may suggest colorimetry as the next stage. This may result in the prescribing of spectacles with coloured lenses. The colour will be more precisely specific to the individuals needs than the overlay and very often a different colour too.

Life-changing benefits

The wearing of precision tinted lenses frequently results in reading that is more fluent and comfortable. Some lens wearers enjoy significant improvement in both reading rate and accuracy, although the degree of improvement differs: some individuals experience improvements in reading age of one to two years within a few weeks of acquiring the lenses; others find the lenses offer greater comfort when reading but the reading improvement is less dramatic because of some other reading difficulty.

If you suspect that you or your child is suffering from Meares-Irlen syndrome, contact Malcolm Gray for a full assessment, including colorimetry.

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