Irlen lenses are coloured spectacles proposed to help children or adults with reading problems. The lenses are chosen as a result of a guided trial and error process supervised by an Irlen lens franchise holder. However, reading difficulties can range from mild to severe to dyslexia, are often caused by a number of factors in combination, and are rarely due to one cause alone.
The Australasian College of Behavioural Optometrists (ACBO) advises there is no reliable scientific evidence to support the routine use of Irlen lenses primarily to treat reading problems and dyslexia. However, a proportion of people with reading problems, where the words move on the page, may have a condition known as pattern glare (see below).
Reading is a complex process involving vision “taking – in” the words on the page, and the brain processing the meaning of the words. Assessment and treatment of reading problems is a complex process.
To ensure vision problems are not interfering with a person’s ability to learn to read, and to use reading to learn, any child or adult with reading problems should have a comprehensive assessment of vision function by an optometrist experienced in learning-related vision problems, to ensure there are no issues of focusing, convergence, eye coordination and visual processing which could be interfering with reading performance.
Optometry prescribed tinted lenses
A neurological condition known as pattern glare can include symptoms of increased sensitivity to bright and flickering lights, as well as to certain striped patterns. The condition may be limited to abnormal light and pattern sensitivity, or in some people may be associated with certain types of migraine, epilepsy, or even occur after a head injury or concussion.
Some people with pattern glare see words moving, jumping or swirling on the page or on a screen when they try to read, depending on the size of the print. This is due to the spatial effects of rows of words which can have the same effect as stripes, severely interfering with reading fluency and accuracy.
Research and clinical practice has found that some people with pattern glare can experience significant improvement of their symptoms of light sensitivity, motion sickness, and in some cases words moving when reading, with prescription of specifically tinted lenses as determined through a comprehensive clinical assessment.
Optometrists only prescribe tinted lenses in relation to reading problems when there are significant visual symptoms which respond to tint application, and clinical evidence of pattern glare interfering with reading legibility. Optometrists may also prescribe tinted lenses for pattern glare associated with other conditions such as photosensitive migraine.
For further information on pattern glare, please see the ACBO position paper on tinted lenses.