Irlen Syndrome

What is an Irlen Syndrome?

Irlen Syndrome, formerly known as Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome, is a type of visual perception abnormality. This is not an optical problem but rather, a problem on how the nervous system perceives a visual information. This was first discovered by Helen Irlen, an educational psychologist, back in the 1980s. People who are diagnosed with Irlen Syndrome tend to see words as blurry, have patterns, and appear to move. Therefore, compared to normal individuals, patients with Irlen syndrome perceive a printed page differently and must constantly adjust to distortions seen on the page.


The following are symptoms of Irlen Syndrome:

  1. Weak depth perception – patient will have difficulty judging accurate distances making it difficult, not to mention dangerous, for them to ambulate on stairs, escalators, ball games, etc.
  2. Sensitivity to light – fluorescent light, sunlight, bright lights, glares, etc.
  3. Attention deficit disorders
    • Problems in tasks that need concentration such as reading, computer work, tests and examinations are evident in these patients lead to poor concentration and weak academic performance in school for children.
  4. Eyes strain
    • This is often common and physical symptoms vary from fatigue, drowsiness, headaches, distractibility, hyperactivity and stress.
  5. Contrast and Color Sensitivity
    • Patient are usually hypersensitive to contrast in colors such as a black print in a white paper and complicated patterns such as stripes and polka dots.
  6. Restricted Span
    • Can’t track words on a line thereby skipping some of them
    • This is a potential problem in recognizing and understanding facial expressions and body language
    • Exhibits great hesitancy in reading
    • Trouble copying words
    • Writes in random spacing and in upward and downward direction
    • Spells words inconsistently


What is exactly the cause of Irlen Syndrome? According to some studies, the cause of Irlen Syndrome is not yet known; however, there this syndrome is linked to a problem in the retina or the visual cortex in the brain.

The visual system has two separate processing pathways; namely, the slow (parvocellular) and the fast (magnocellular). The slow pathway on the other hand is responsible for determining color, fine details, and low contrast images. The fast pathway’s main function is to regulate movement, depth, and high contrast images. In addition, the fast pathway also inhibits the slow pathway when the eyes are in motion so that the image of what was previously being viewed will not persist. In the case of Irlen syndrome, it seems that the patient has problems with the fast pathway. In turn, the fast pathway can no longer inhibit the slow pathway; therefore the images viewed by the slow pathway persist when the eyes are moved. As a result, the brain sees overlapping images. In severe cases, the brain perceives images that are no longer there. That is why the person may see dancing or floating images, blurring, or forming strange patterns. In the less severe cases, the brain of an affected person needs more effort in trying to interpret the images perceived that is why the individual may experience headaches, eyestrain, and fatigue.


Before treating an individual with Irlen Syndrome, he or she has to undergo a screening which involves challenging the visual system. Helen Irlen developed the use of filters in altering the light waves, which minimizes the distortions created by this light, which will then aid in improving the reading and comprehension abilities of the individual.

  • Color overlays are used to adjust the contrast between the words and the page
  • Color overlays are then placed over the page while reading
  • Use of tinted Irlen filters allows the person with Irlen syndrome to see words in a page clearly, which makes reading more efficient and easier.

Irlen Syndrome Test

Test I

The Irlen syndrome Test consist of two parts. The first is to determine whether you have the symptoms as indicated in the symptoms section.


Test II

This is the second component of the Irlen syndrome test which is really easy as the questions are quite simple. In fact, one can administer this test on his/her own.

Do any of the following situations bother your eyes, head, or stomach? Or make you feel dizzy, tired, nervous, and irritable?

  1. Reading books for longer periods?
  2. Reading on a computer for longer periods?
  3. Reading under fluorescent lights?
  4. Reading black ink on glossy white paper?
  5. Intensive visual activities (cross-stitching, crossword puzzles)?
  6. Sunlight?
  7. Bright lights?
  8. Car headlights?
  9. Complicated patterns like stripes?
  10. Neon colors?
  11. Do you often wear sunglasses to protect yourself from certain glare such as the sunlight?
  12. Become drowsy or tired under bright lights?
  13. Experience headache from fluorescent lights?
  14. Feeling clumsy and restless under fluorescent lights?
  15. Level of performance in whatever you’re doing declines when under bright or fluorescent light?
  16. Feeling either that there is it’s too much light or too little when reading?
  17. Find it comfortable reading in dim light?

Although the symptoms presented are not limited to Irlen Syndrome because there are really instances that we need to answer “yes” to some of the series of questions, but if you think what you are experiencing is beyond the usual, then it is imperative to visit to the doctor for proper screening and medical checkup.

It is indeed important to be wary about our health because this is one big wealth no one can take away from us, if only we are extra careful. The eyes are considered to be very vital in how we live our lives because we can see the wonders of life through our eyes. A simple headache or migraine can mean something more complicated or just a prelude to something more serious that is bound to happen to our health. So it is very important to be very watchful with the signs and symptoms that we think would warrant a medical examination with your physician. Let’s not waste the chance of living a beautiful lifetime just because of the discomfort we feel even in the slightest act of reading.

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