Read and Write

Understanding Visual Stress

Visual Stress, also referred to as Meares-Irlen syndrome, is a term used to describe multiple symptoms associated with visual perception problems. Symptoms may include eye strain, migraine headaches, light sensitivity, experiencing glare from a page, the perception that words or letters on a page are blurred or moving or that patterns are emanating from the text. Some people may also experience difficulty tracking words on a page. The range and severity of these symptoms vary between individuals. However, these symptoms affect reading ability and can be extremely problematic for students.

The British Dyslexia Association report that approximately 15-20% of the population are affected by visual stress and a significantly higher proportion, 35-40%, are dyslexic. There is a strong link between dyslexia and visual stress. One method used for treating the symptoms of visual stress is through the use of color. For example, individually prescribed tinted reading glasses may help. In addition to tinted glasses, text overlays and screen overlays are also available. Another option that may help is changing the background or font color of documents read on a computer or other digital device. All of these options help to reduce the glare from the white background on a page or computer screen. This reduction in glare may improve reading speed and accuracy for some individuals.

In addition to color variations, changing font style, font size and line spacing may also be helpful. San serif typeface is often easier to read than serif and increasing the font size and line spacing reduces the amount of text the eyes need to focus on at one time. Lexia Readable, Open-Dyslexic and Dyslexie are free fonts designed for dyslexic readers. Have a look at them to determine if they will be useful for you. Each individual has their own specific needs and you should experiment to determine the tools and adjustments that work best for you.

It is hoped that the information above will be helpful if you or someone you know is experiencing visual stress or related issues. However, be sure to see your optometrist to rule out any ophthalmic conditions that may be affecting your vision. If you are a student and have questions or need assistance with matters associated with dyslexia, contact your university disability office. You can also visit the British Dyslexia Association for a wealth of resources on visual stress and specific learning difficulties.