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What is Visual Stress?

Visual Stress

Do you become extremely tired when reading? Have you noticed reading isn’t as fluent as you would expect it to be? If you have noticed these problems with yourself, your child or a family member then it might be worth booking an appointment with an optometrist as visual stress could be the underlying issue.

Visual stress (Meares Irlen Syndrome) is a light-sensitive condition that contributes and emphasises visual perceptual problems, makes reading more difficult and can be the root cause of headaches, tiredness and nausea when reading. People who suffer from this condition often have difficulty focusing on closely designed patterns and stripes, as well as suffering under fluorescent lights, bright sunlight or from glare. Visual stress may not be seen as a serious issue until it comes to coping with small black text on a white background or when reading large volumes of text.

Recent studies show that visual stress is more prevalent in people with dyslexia than in the rest of the population. Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in the accurate and fluent reading, writing and spelling of words. It is thought that about 10% of the population are affected to some degree and dyslexia occurs across the range of intellectual abilities.

Quite often, dyslexia can go unnoticed in a child until they reach school age where their ability to read or write would be of a lower standard to that of a child who does not suffer from dyslexia.

Many children who suffer from visual stress and or dyslexia are unaware that they see the page differently to others as they assume what they see is normal.

What should be done if a child is displaying problems reading or writing? Well, every child who presents problems with their reading should be booked in for a full and comprehensive eye examination. A refractive prescription may be required and a pair of spectacles would be issued in order to correct long or short sightedness and eye exercises are sometimes required to improve the ability to focus when reading.

Some optometrists can undertake a special investigation of vision in relation to reading and learning. A coloured overlay assessment looks at eye dominance by tracking reading speed, muscle balance and colour preference. The application of a coloured overlay or precision tint can mean that the words appear to stop moving and page appears clearer and still. If the overlay assessment finds that an overlay improves the ability to read then the patient would normally be asked to use the coloured overlays for a few weeks to see is the results are beneficial.

If progress is good with overlays, a colorimetry assessment with the Intuitive Colorimeter may be recommended resulting in the prescribing of precision tinted lenses which are more specific to the individual’s needs and are more convenient than overlays for board and computer work and writing.


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