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How much is a visual stress test

optician in harrow - eye examinationVisual Stress is a condition contributing to reading difficulties, eye strain and headaches when reading in many adults and children.

The condition relates to light sensitivity in disorders such as dyslexia, migraine and epilepsy. It can be responsible for distortions on the printed page. Distortions include blurring of print, movement of words and letters, fading of print and appearance of patterns in text.

Visual stress can co-exist with Dyslexia. If visual stress is diagnosed then other learning difficulties are easier to cope with. Many people who do not have dyslexia do have visual stress and can benefit from colour treatment. Visual stress can co-exist with Dyslexia.

Classic symptoms are:

  • Words moving on the page.
  • When I read I get a headache.
  • The page is very bright and I cannot see the words properly.
  • Reading hurts my eyes.

Research has shown that an individual colour, worn as Precision tinted lenses, will relieve the symptoms of visual stress and allow more fluent, efficient and comfortable reading.

Visual stress is due to the hyper excitability of the neurons in the visual cortex which fire inappropriately. Research has shown that the neurons in the visual cortex are colour sensitive, and by placing a colour in front of the eye changes the pattern of excitation in the cortical network to avoid hyper excitability thereby reducing visual disturbances. The same theory is also used in the treatment for migraine sufferers. Colour treatment can help to prevent the frequency and severity of migraines.

We can now offer this specialized treatment for visual stress, dyslexia and migraine.

At the mention of reading difficulties, most people think of dyslexia. But another common cause of reading problems, which can also be found in people with dyslexia, is visual stress. It affects up to 20% of the population to varying degrees and could be the reason your child is struggling with their reading. That’s where a visual stress test at Simmons Optometrists, your opticians in Oakham, can help.

Signs to spot

As reading forms such an integral part of children’s education, trouble with reading can result in general learning difficulties in children. There are several signs which suggest visual stress may be involved. Common signs include your child:

  • complaining that:
    1. words move around when they’re reading
    2. patterns appear and disappear in printed text
    3. letters or words blur
  • using a finger as a marker when reading
  • tiring easily and/or expressing frustration when reading
  • experiencing migraines, headaches or visual discomfort
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visual stress symptoms

Getting assessed

Before carrying out a test for visual stress, we will conduct a thorough eye test to rule out any underlying visual problems which could be the cause of reading difficulties.

We’ll then carry out one of several different tests available for visual stress depending on the age and ability of your child. These tests include:

  • A coloured overlays assessment, testing their reading ability using different coloured overlays over text.
  • The Read EZ system, a range of testing approaches for older children including coloured overlays, coloured reading guides, coloured clip-ons, coloured spectacle lenses and/or virtual overlay software.
  • The Bernell Developmental Eye Movement (DEM) test, which tracks eye movements.

visual stress, dyslexia and reading

Treating visual stress

Based on the results of your child’s test we can then offer tailored solutions. The first course of action is usually to identify the ideal coloured overlay to make reading easier. Different colours work better for different people. We may also suggest tinted spectacle lenses which offer a greater range of colours to match your preference and alleviate your symptoms when reading.

If your child has visual stress, these treatments can help make reading fun again so they can benefit from the full learning experience.

To find out more, book your child an eye test with us this half-term and our experienced optometrists will gladly talk to you about whether your child could benefit from testing for visual stress.

What is Visual Stress? April 5, 2018 12:40 pm What is Visual Stress? image


    by Sarah Duckworth, Optometrist at Valli Opticians Honley/Meltham in Huddersfield

As a local optician I often see children and young people who have visual stress. They don’t realise that the reason they are struggling to read is because they have this condition.  It’s more common than most people realise with some estimates stating it affects 1 in 10 people, so in a typical classroom that is around 2 to 3 children.

However it isn’t only children who can have visual stress; it can affect adults too.

The good news for those with visual stress is that there are measures we can take to relieve the symptoms and help the child or adult to read better.

Visual stress is also called Meares-Irlen Syndrome or Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome.

Simply explained, Visual Stress is a sensitivity to visual patterns, particularly stripes. In some individuals this condition can cause visual perceptual problems, which interfere with reading. The symptoms can occur despite normal vision.

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One current scientific explanation is that the perceptual problems are due to a hyperactivation of the visual cortex of the brain, particularly in more anterior visual areas, which is reduced by precise individual colour.

Symptoms most commonly arise when someone with the condition is trying to read paragraphs of black text on a white background. This light reflected back from the page contains all the wavelengths of light in the visual spectrum.  In visual stress, the brain is unable to process the full spectral of light. Using colour (overlays or tinted lenses) will selectively reduce the input of certain wavelengths of light and allow the brain to process visual information correctly.

What are the symptoms of visual stress?

Usually the simplest questions are the best and I find that asking a child the following: “Are you good at reading?” often identifies those that may have visual stress. If a child is behind their peers in their reading ability, or below their expected level at school, it is strongly advisable to look at the possibility of visual stress.

The really common symptoms apart from this are losing the place on the page when reading or getting letters jumbled up which leads to misreading words or text moving on the page.

Frustration and low self-esteem can occur in children who are underachieving due to visual stress. Early diagnosis of the problem is therefore essential in my view. The longer it takes to identify and remedy visual stress, the greater the loss of confidence that can result.

As an exhaustive list, all or some of the following symptoms may be present:

  • Words moving, blurring or going double

  • Letters changing size or shape

  • Patterns or halos of colour in text

  • Red, sore, watery eyes

  • Headaches when reading

Signs to look out for that may indicate visual stress:

  • Misreading text or reading words in the wrong order

  • Missing out words or whole lines of text

  • Losing the place on a page when reading

  • Tiring quickly when reading

  • Moving closer to or further away from the book

  • Moving the book around on the desk or fidgeting continuously

  • Using a finger as a marker on the page

  • Rubbing eyes or blinking frequently when reading

  • Poor comprehension of reading content

Some people may have all these symptoms but often people only suffer with one or two. It’s also harder for children to describe their symptoms or for them to know that what they’re seeing isn’t normal.

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What are the treatments?

Visual stress symptoms can be relieved with the help of coloured overlays or precision tinted lenses in spectacles.

When visual stress is suspected, a sight test is carried out followed by an Overlay Assessment where a variety of coloured overlays are shown to identify the colour which most reduces the visual stress symptoms..

A Wilkins Rate of Reading Test is then carried out to assess if the coloured overlay improves the reading ability. If there is an improvement, this chosen overlay colour is prescribed to be used  for reading over the next four to six weeks.

If using the overlay significantly improves reading, the next test we recommend is an  Intuitive Colorimetry Assessment’. This allows precision tinted lenses to be prescribed in glasses, which is much better and a lot more convenient to use compared to a coloured overlay.

At this appointment the optician will find the exact hue (colour) and saturation (darkness of colour) that helps relieve the visual stress symptoms. This piece of equipment is able to prescribe from up to 100,000 colour combinations. Spectacle lenses are then tinted in this exact colour and used not just for reading but also  for looking at computer screens and whiteboards at school and college. These lenses can also help relieve migraines too!

Is visual stress the same as dyslexia?

No. Dyslexia is a learning difficulty which causes the person with the condition to have problems with reading, writing, spelling as well as other things. People with dyslexia often suffer from visual stress and will benefit from overlays or tinted lenses but people can have visual stress but not necessarily be dyslexic.

Here at Valli we can diagnose and treat visual stress but not dyslexia. If a patient is diagnosed with visual stress and is struggling in other areas than just reading we would advise a referral to an educational psychologist for a possible dyslexia diagnosis.

How successful is the use of colour?

What I have described has been used for a number of years and found to be very successful.

The degree of improvement for each person differs however: some people experience improvements in reading age of one to two years within a few weeks of acquiring the lenses.  In others, the lenses may offer greater comfort when reading, but the reading improvement may be less dramatic because of other reading difficulties.