Visual stress is the subjective experience of unpleasant visual symptoms when reading (especially for a long time). The symptoms of visual stress fall into two main categories:
Visual perceptual distortions and illusions including illusions of shape, motion, colour, blurring.
Asthenopia – discomfort, sore or tired eyes, headaches, and photophobia.
These symptoms were first noted by Meares (1980) and Irlen (1983). Both Meares and Irlen note that such symptoms can frequently be alleviated by using colour, either in the form of coloured overlays or tinted glasses. It has been given different labels, including :
Meares – irlen syndrome
Scotopic sensitivity syndrome.
“Visual Stress” is now the generally accepted label. True visual stress can be present in people with an efficient visual system. Many experience symptoms of visual stress as a result of visual inefficiency that is completely curable through a combination of the correct glasses and optometric vision therapy. However, this group will also feel partial alleviation of their symptoms using colored filters or overlays.
The prevalence of visual stress in the general population is generally estimated at about 20%. Geometric repetitive patterns such as stripes, or parallel lines can give rise to visual stress. There is greater prevalence amongst children who are struggling to read. The vertical and horizontal lines in the answer-book are potential sources of visual stress. The beneficial
colour for the overlays or glasses that have a neurological basis are shades of blue or yellow.
The magnocellular system plays an important role in visual motion processing, controlling vergence eye movements, and in reading. Yellow filters
may boost magnocellular activity by eliminating inhibitory blue input to this pathway.
It was found that wearing yellow filters increased motion sensitivity, convergence, and accommodation in many children with reading difficulties,
both immediately and after three months using the filters. Motion sensitivity
was not increased using control neutral density filters. Moreover, reading impaired children showed significant gains in reading ability after three months wearing the filters compared with those who had used a placebo.
It was concluded that yellow filters can improve magnocellular function permanently. Hence, they should be considered as an alternative to corrective lenses, prisms, or exercises for treating poor convergence and accommodation, and also as an aid for children with reading problems (1).
The idea of using coloured pages instead of coloured filters or glasses for books used by students is one that will reduce visual stress for those who experience it. Without trying to alleviate their suffering, students with visual stress are being placed at an unfair disadvantage each time they sit in an examination. As stated, the problem has been known for nearly 40 years but next to nothing has been done to address the issue.
In Israel, this is partially because ophthalmologists dominated the eyecare scene for many years. Though for the most part their specialty lies in the treatment of eye disease, they have been consulted with regarding visual issues as well. However, issues such as ‘visual stress’ are in the best case just not addressed, and in the worst case scoffed at, as something “invented”.
Undoubtedly, matriculation examinees are required to sit and concentrate for a long time. The contrast of the lines or squares against the white page will affect the ability of those candidates who are visually sensitive, to concentrate and think. This presents them with a clear disadvantage and limits their ability to perform maximally in all their examinations. Through its use of appropriate colours, the genius model of the Genius notebook greatly reduces visual stress for the student.
The theory behind the products for students that are being created by The Genius Notebook Ltd is not new at all. What is new is the attempt to make this more comfortable visual environment available to all. And this is something to be commended and welcomed. It is something that I highly recommend as something that will make things fair for the candidate with visual stress syndrome.
Dr. Robert Lederman, PhD.