Why visual stress can impact on a child’s education

Hereford optometrist urges parents to be aware of the symptoms of visual stress

Children can be held back in their educational development and future potential because of the often unnoticed and untreated symptoms of visual stress, according to a Herefordshire optometrist.

Suzanne Wadsworth, director at BBR Optometry at St Owen Street in Hereford, said parents were often not aware of the symptoms of visual stress.

Many adults are also affected by the condition which can lead to sore eyes, headaches and being unable to read for long periods of time.

In most cases the symptoms of visual stress are the blurring of print in books or texts, letters and words appearing as if they’re moving, discomfort when reading, glare from white paper, patterns in print.

“Visual stress isn’t something that everyone is aware of and it is often only diagnosed during a routine eye examination or because a patient has reported some of the conditions that an optometrist will recognise,” said Suzanne.

“The optometrist can then undertake some tests that will diagnose the condition and allow treatment.”

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

It is caused by the effect of striped black writing on white paper. This causes over stimulation of the visual cortex, the visual processing area of the brain.

Signs of visual stress can include skipping of words or lines, re-reading the same line frequently, moving closer or further away from the book, or poor comprehension of the reading content.

“The symptoms can have profound effects on people, particularly children who are reading a lot as part of their education. It can also be a problem with poor readers, even those diagnosed as dyslexic, whose condition can be managed better if visual stress if diagnosed,” said Suzanne.

Around 15 to 20 per cent of people suffer from visual stress and can also be sensitive to fluorescent lighting and the flicker from some computer monitors.

A visit to an optometrist can help identify the issue and deal with it.

“A full eye examination is the first step. If there are any underlying issues, a more thorough examination will be undertaken. At this point appropriate spectacles or vision training can be undertaken,” said Suzanne.

After this an overlay assessment will be undertaken. This involves reading text through various coloured acetate sheets.

Each colour is then recorded and the best colour or colour combination is determined.

The next step is a diagnostic ReadEZ assessment. This will lead to the correct coloured tint being diagnosed and appropriate coloured (tinted) spectacles being prescribed.

“Diagnosing visual stress can make such a difference to someone, whether a young person or an adult. Anyone who thinks they have such symptoms should book an eye examination. Ideally, everyone should have a routine eye examination at least every two years.”

More details about visual stress can be found here

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