IrlenIrlen Syndrome, discovered by Helen Irlen in 1981 (some call it the Meares-Irlen Syndrome as Olive Meares, a NZ educator, was the first to describe the symptoms and the treatment), is a form of visual distress, which leads to difficulty with fine vision tasks such as reading.

What causes the visual distress? It all goes down to the visual processing pathways of our brain – namely the magnocellular pathway and the parvocellular pathway. To understand this we need to know that there are three different kinds of cone photoreceptors in the retina of our eyes that are responsible for colour vision. Each type responds differently to different light wavelength (colour). Due to this reason, each one of us responds differently to the same colour wavelength, or illuminated object or light source. This kind of sensitivity is unique to each individual. When light reacts with the cone photoreceptors, a set of stimuli (messages) are produced and passed down to the brain via the two pathways mentioned above. If one of the pathways that delivers the message to the brain is slower than the other due to the extreme sensitivity to a specific wavelength, the message that gets to the brain will be distorted or incomplete and cause the visual distress. This is what happens with Irlen Syndrome. Those with Irlen Syndrome are extremely sensitive to light of specific wavelength(s) due to a defect (slower delivery time) in the magnocellular pathway. This in turn can cause issues with reading, light sensitivity, or depth perception and may be linked to certain behavioural issues.

The condition affects about 50% of dyslexics, as well as epileptics, migraine sufferers, people with ME and MS, and others. Unfortunately this cannot be picked up by standardized screening tests or vision tests. Like dyslexia, it is not curable but can be treated, and significant improvements can be made. For dyslexics, Irlen Syndrome can often be the cause of reading difficulty.


The symptoms will have been present throughout your life but some people experience symptoms after a minute of reading, others find the symptoms take longer to appear. The degree of symptoms can also vary from person to person with more marked symptoms creating barriers to successful reading.

General Problems May Include

  • Strain working under bright lighting, fluorescent light, sunlight

  • Difficulty driving at night

  • Difficulty finding comfortable lighting

  • Glare from bright objects

  • Eye strain

  • Headaches or sleepiness from reading, working at a computer, watching TV, supermarket lighting.

Symptoms Resulting from Reading may include:

  • Poor comprehension

  • Skips words or lines

  • Reads slowly or hesitantly

  • Loses place

  • Eye Strain

When reading you may see the words:

  • Jumping off the page

  • Spinning

  • Moving around

  • Not staying where they are supposed to

Symptoms Judging Distances may include:

  • Clumsiness

  • Accident Prone

  • Bumps into things

  • Difficulty catching small balls

  • Difficulty with escalators, stairs, or driving

If you have any of the above symptoms, it is advisable to have a proper vision exam with our optometrist. If, after the eye exam, and the appropriate treatment, the symptoms remain, you ought to be tested for Irlen syndrome.

Treatment for Irlen Syndrome

There are a number of treatments for Irlen syndrome and different people will have different outcomes from treatment. Some can gain significant improvements, some no more than a 5-10% correction. However, some improvement is better than none at all. Treatment for Irlen Syndrome will not cure dyslexia, but may improve the ability to read.

Treatment involves the use of colour and simple eye exercises. Coloured overlays and glasses have been shown to lessen the effects of visual stress. Likewise, regular simple exercises to train the eye and increase coordination have had some success as well.

It is important to have an assessment with a licensed Orthoptist or specialized Behaviour Optometrist and have a course of treatment set that is appropriate for you. Treatment is highly specialised and needs to be set specifically for you

Where to go to be tested for Irlen Syndrome?

We are a Certified Irlen Testing Clinic. Our Irlen Screener will work with you to establish whether you may benefit from tinted lenses.

If you have Irlen Syndrome, a more detailed examination will be done to establish the colour tint that provides the best solution for you. The most suitable option will filter out problematic light waves and assist the brain to process the visual information more quickly and accurately.