What is visual stress? (A complete guide)

In this brief blog, we will be talking about visual stress, the meaning of visual stress, the components of visual stress, how visual stress happened, and more information about visual stress.

What is visual stress?

Visual stress is a visual condition where the person has a difficult time trying to read things he or she wants to have a clear grasp on. Some people with this kind of condition may found out that they have this kind of condition when they are having a hard time reading important material.

This kind of condition has also been described as the inability to determine shapes in one’s environment when they see some objects that are showing indications of clear shapes but they are having a hard time determining the certain object. This is because this kind of condition can lead them to have an eye strain when they try to concentrate too much on the certain object in their field of vision.

What are the symptoms and signs of visual stress?

The following symptoms and signs of visual stress will be described below. First, let’s talk about this kind of condition in children.

Children with this kind of condition will have a strong sense of low self-esteem where they are different among other children and they are more likely to have a hard time in school where they are associated with normal children who might not understand what’s going on with them. The following are symptoms and signs of this condition in different people:

  • Words moving, blurring or going double in affected people
  • Letters changing size or shape in affected people
  • Patterns or halos of colour in text in affected people
  • Red, sore, watery eyes in affected people
  • Headaches when reading in affected people

The following are additional signs to notice when the person is suffering from this kind of condition:

  • Misreading text or reading words in the wrong order in affected people
  • Missing out words or whole lines of text in affected people
  • Losing the place on a page when reading in affected people
  • Tiring quickly when reading in affected people
  • Moving closer to or further away from the book in affected people
  • Moving the book around on the desk or fidgeting continuously in affected people
  • Using a finger as a marker on the page in affected people
  • Rubbing eyes or blinking frequently when reading in affected people
  • Poor comprehension of reading content in affected people

Some people may have all these symptoms of this condition but most of the time, people only suffer from one or two. It’s also harder for children to describe their symptoms or for them to know that what they’re seeing isn’t normal when it comes to describing this kind of condition.

Visual stress in affected people

Some people experience visual discomfort or disturbance when they read when they are suffering from visual stress. Common symptoms and signs that may significantly impair reading ability or make reading very tiring are the following:

  • headaches and eyestrain associated with reading and/or other near work in affected people
  • text appearing blurred or going in and out of focus in affected people
  • text appearing double or alternating between single and double in affected people
  • difficulty keeping place in text in affected people
  • difficulty tracking across lines of text in affected people
  • discomfort with brightness of the page or contrast between text and background in affected people
  • text that appears to shimmer or flicker in affected people

Symptoms such as these have a variety of different causes, some of which may be due to disease or abnormality so they must be investigated by a professional who is qualified to diagnose them correctly and give appropriate treatment for the person who is affected by this condition. Anyone who experiences such difficulties related to reading should consult a registered optometrist for a full assessment of eye health and visual function when having this condition.

While adults may recognise symptoms, children may not be aware of them, as this is how they always experience reading in their time. For this reason, any child who is a struggling reader should be assessed by an optometrist to either rule out or treat visual complications as observed. 

This assessment and treatment are to check the health of the eyes and to enable clear and comfortable vision and treatment of visual complications is not the same treatment of dyslexia which is another visual complication. All children under the age of 16 and young adults under the age of 19 who are in full-time education are entitled to a free NHS sight test with an optometrist and to an optical voucher to help with the cost of glasses or contact lenses when they have visual complications such as visual stress. 

The NHS sight test is sufficiently comprehensive to enable the optometrist to assess eye health and determine the likely causes of visual complications that impact reading and other near work. This should include an assessment of the ability of the eyes to concentrate and work together correctly such as binocular accommodation and convergence.

In many cases, the NHS sight test is all that is obligated to enable an optometrist to determine a problem and offer appropriate treatment with prescription glasses or contact lenses for the affected person. Sometimes, however, the optometrist will consider that further assessment and/or other forms of treatment are necessary for the affected person. 

The most likely of these will involve full assessment of binocular vision which may need treatment with eye muscle exercises which are known as orthoptics or vision therapy and/or pattern-related visual stress which may sometimes be alleviated using precision-coloured overlays or lenses by certified professionals. Such assessments and treatments are outside the scope of the NHS sight test so the optometrist will either provide these privately for a fee or refer to another practitioner such as an optometrist working in a specialist university clinic or an orthoptist working in NHS secondary care or hospital for affected people. 

All NHS hospital orthoptics departments and university specialist optometry clinics will undertake assessment and treatment of binocular vision anomalies but not all will provide assessment and treatment of this visual complication. The vision screening that most children undergo at school entry during the ages 4 to 5 is only a test of whether a child can see clearly in the distance and show no sign of a visual complication. 

It is not a comprehensive assessment of eyes or vision and does not test any of the functions required for clear and comfortable vision when reading in the affected person. For this reason, every child should have a full sight test when they start school and as frequently as recommended by their optometrist after that to avoid neglecting visual complications.

Some websites and providers of education resources provide coloured overlays, tinted reading rulers, and other devices that may make reading easier and more comfortable for some children who may be suffering from this visual complication. These aids may be helpful but it is very important that these aids should not replace or discourage full professional assessment for the affected child. 

In particular, coloured overlays and similar aids must not be promoted as the first strategy to help children with reading difficulties and visual difficulties. If children have visual complications, then it is essential that these are diagnosed and managed correctly by qualified and registered professionals to get a proper assessment.

Treatments for visual stress

Visual stress symptoms can be relieved with the help of coloured overlays or precision tinted lenses in spectacles given by professionals. When this kind of condition is suspected, a sight test is carried out followed by an Overlay Assessment where a variety of coloured overlays are shown to determine the colour which most reduces the symptoms of this condition.

A Wilkins Rate of Reading Test is then carried out to assess if the coloured overlay improves the reading ability of affected children. If there is an improvement, this chosen overlay colour is prescribed to be used for reading over the next four to six weeks for the affected person.

If using the overlay significantly improves reading, the next test we recommend is an  Intuitive Colorimetry Assessment for people with this kind of condition. This permits precision tinted lenses to be prescribed in glasses which is much better and a lot more convenient to use compared to a coloured overlay for affected people.

At this appointment, the optician will find the exact hue or colour and saturation or darkness of colour that helps relieve the symptoms of this condition. This piece of equipment is able to prescribe from up to 100,000 colour combinations as a test. 

Spectacle lenses are then tinted in this exact colour and used not just for reading but also for looking at computer screens and whiteboards at school and college for affected people. These lenses can also help relieve migraines too in affected people who have them.

How colour reduces visual stress?

Colour reduces visual stress since the combination and its hue can show up without too much effort on the person with this condition. There are a lot of eye specialists who can offer treatments with colour to heal those people with this condition.

It is also prescribed that the affected person should take this test at the time that the specialist has prescribed the person so to not worsen the symptoms of this condition. If this condition has not healed using this treatment, it is necessary that the person will have to be prescribed to long-term help for this condition.


In this brief blog, we have talked about visual stress, the meaning of visual stress, the components of visual stress, how visual stress happened, and more information about visual stress.

If you have any questions about visual stress, please let us know and the team will gladly answer your queries.

Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.

FAQs: visual stress

Is visual stress a learning disability?

No, visual stress is not a learning disability. This kind of condition is a processing problem affected by sensitivity to light, glare, and black and white contrast which means that reading and writing can cause discomfort in affected people. Learning disabilities are knock-on effects of this condition as observed in studies.

Is visual stress real?

Yes, visual stress is real. This kind of condition is considered by some people where people who have this condition will try to read the stripy effect of the lines of print which causes similar symptoms impacting their ability to read the text. This kind of condition has also been called Meares-Irlen Syndrome. This kind of condition is not dyslexia but is more typical among people with dyslexia. 

How do you reduce visual stress?

You can reduce visual stress by changing the colour in a similar way that changing the background colour, font colour or both which can be helpful in reducing this kind of condition. Official filters for this kind of condition are available from OCULA. 

How do you get diagnosed with Irlen Syndrome?

You can get diagnosed with Irlen Syndrome by how you scored in two testing sessions offered by authorized professionals such as a screening appointment by Irlen Screeners and Irlen Diagnosticians and a testing appointment for Irlen Spectral Filters by Irlen Diagnosticians. These kinds of tests are re-checked yearly. 

Does anxiety cause vision issues?

Yes, anxiety can cause vision issues. This association comes from the fact that this kind of psychological condition can affect us psychologically or physiologically. When we have chronic levels of this psychological condition, high levels of adrenaline in the body may cause pressure on the eyes which may lead to blurred vision. People with chronic levels of this psychological condition can suffer from eye strain during the day on a regular basis. 


British Dyslexia Association. Neurodiversity and Co-occurring differences.

Cerium Visual Technologies. WHAT IS VISUAL STRESS?.

Valli Group. What is Visual Stress?.

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