What causes visual stress?

Here at Leightons Opticians & Hearing Care, we are able to carry out some specialised examinations for those people who suffer with visual stress. "Visual Stress" is where processing of text is atypical. This can lead to reading difficulties, headaches and other visual problems when reading text.

Visual stress is not the same as dyslexia, although the two conditions can commonly occur together.

The general consensus is that visual stress is caused by hypersensitivity in the visual system. Coloured filters calm the visual system down and allow the individual to process the information more effectively. And it’s not just children who benefit – adults do too.

Infographic representing colours.

There are different types of coloured filters or lenses that can be used to help relieve visual discomfort. If coloured filters help, then overlays are the cheapest and simplest method; for just a few pounds, you can simply place a coloured acetate film over the text you are reading. Private tests are offered by some optometrists or dispensing opticians to help find out which colour filter will be most effective.

Beyond coloured overlays, tinted lenses can be created to a precise colour tone. These also aim to reduce visual discomfort, but although they’re more expensive, they can be created to a more specific colour than it is possible to achieve with an overlay.

Colorimetry and tinted spectacles can also be useful for those with migraines, photo-sensitive epilepsy or acquired brain injuries.

Coloured filters are not a cure for dyslexia and might not help every patient experiencing visual discomfort, dyslexia or reading problems.

Does your child find it difficult to read?

Our experts have some tips to help identify whether your child might be suffering from visual stress:

  • They're reluctant to read
  • They’re falling behind in their reading age
  • They complain the print hurts their eyes
  • They rub their eyes whilst reading
  • They’re fidgety and unwilling to sit down and read
  • They may have behavioural issues – linked to the discomfort of reading

How visual stress affects your sight

Far from being an ordered grouping of lines and text, here’s how the page could look to someone with visual stress…

  • Words on the page wobble, move, are ghosted, blurred, overlap or have a 3D appearance
  • They can see shapes appearing on the page
  • They find the white of the page very bright, often seeing rivers of white running through the page
  • Their eyes jump between lines, and they have difficulty tracking along the page

Tips for avoiding visual discomfort:

  • Avoid bright light and glare – try to use blinds or close curtains where possible
  • Adjust screen position to reduce glare on screens from overhead lights
  • Take regular breaks from screens
  • Hold digital devices further away to reduce eye tiredness
Several different coloured lenses.

Coloured Overlay Assessment

During the examination, we try a number of acetate plastic sheets in various colours to determine whether colour will help reduce the discomfort experienced.

Coloured overlays are especially great for young children and students, as they are cheap and easy to use. Coloured overlays can only be used to assist reading paperwork/books, and we recommend that it is used for around 6 weeks before coloured spectacles lenses are considered.

If coloured overlays are successful, and colour is needed to help with writing, distance vision or computer use, we move on to a test called 'colorimetry'.

Colorimetry Assessment

Colorimetry testing tells us what colour tinted spectacles to prescribe. The overlay test does not work in the same way as colorimetry, which is why there are separate types of tests. In colorimetry, a lightbox is used with lots of coloured filters, to help determine the very specific colour and its density for the lenses.

We have had lots of success with coloured overlays and tinted spectacles. Many people report a significant improvement in both the comfort, speed of reading and comprehension. Some children have found they may jump several reading ages in a short space of time.

How to book

To arrange a visual stress test you will need an up-to-date eye examination. Please contact your local branch to discuss booking your visual stress examination. You can also do this over the phone on 0800 40 20 20. We look forward to finding out if colour could help you!