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No scientific evidence that Irlen Syndrome exists, say ophthalmologists

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) has released a position statement explaining that there is no evidence that Irlen Syndrome exists and that there is no proof that supposed treatments, such as Irlen lenses, help those with reading difficulties.

“The real concern with diagnoses of Irlen Syndrome,” explains RANZCO spokesperson Prof Frank Martin, “is that it can distract from genuine diagnosis and treatment, such as a comprehensive evaluation by an educational psychologist followed by the appropriate remedial educational input. Any interventions that distract from and delay this evaluation could be detrimental to the effective treatment of any learning disabilities.”

Irlen Syndrome is commonly defined as a perceptual processing disorder, suggesting that the brain is unable to properly process visual information from the eyes because of sensitivity to certain wavelengths of light. Symptoms are said to include poor concentration; difficulties with reading, writing and comprehension; glare sensitivity; headaches and poor depth perception. RANZCO’s Irlen Syndrome position statement states that “Despite Irlen Syndrome being first described in the early 1980s, there is still no sound theoretical basis or evidence that the condition actually exists. A diagnosis of Irlen Syndrome is based solely on symptoms with no quantitative physiological correlation.”

Treatments associated with Irlen Syndrome such as coloured lenses have not been proven to be any more effective in improving reading difficulties in children than in children assessed in a control group (without coloured lenses and associated ‘treatments’). RANZCO’s Irlen Syndrome position statement explains that there is no documented evidence to say that Irlen lenses are harmful, but the use of unproven methods may waste time and financial resources preventing a child from receiving the appropriate evidence-based educational remedies that could actually help with their learning development.

“Overwhelmingly the research shows no benefit from this treatment in children with reading difficulties and vulnerable parents are being exploited and having their children subjected to unnecessary screening practices,” said Prof Frank Martin.

RANZCO’s Irlen Syndrome position statement

RANZCO is also warning parents about other ineffective and unproven vision therapies being offered as supposed treatments for learning disabilities such as dyslexia.

“As a medical education body supporting only evidence based treatments, RANZCO has an obligation to safe guard the interests of patients by speaking out against treatments that lack clinical or scientific merit,” explained RANZCO spokesperson A/Prof James Elder. “Ophthalmologists, like mainstream optometrists, are very passionate about saving sight and don’t like to see resources intended for health and wellbeing being misdirected. Reviews of the literature have consistently shown a lack of good evidence to support vision therapies, such as those offered by behavioural optometrists, for the treatment of learning disabilities such as dyslexia.

“Using these expensive, ineffective and controversial treatments may delay a child from receiving the appropriate evidence-based educational remedies. Evidence shows that the earlier the intervention with the appropriate remedial programs, the more effective they are in improving reading outcomes. The use of ineffective interventions may also waste the limited financial resources of the family as well as giving them a false sense of security that the child’s reading difficulties are being addressed.

It is important, therefore, that parents understand that dyslexia and other learning disabilities are not disorders of vision and so, visual therapy is misdirected. Scientific evidence shows that behavioural optometry treatments such as eye tracking exercises, vision therapy, weak glasses to relax the focus, and coloured lenses/overlays do not help children read any better.

Eye care professionals such as ophthalmologists and optometrists are not qualified to diagnose or treat learning disabilities. However, children with learning difficulties will usually have both their hearing and vision assessed because listening and seeing are the first steps in information processing for the purpose of learning. The role of optometrists and ophthalmologists is therefore to diagnose and treat any treatable vision problems that may be contributing to any difficulties at school. 

* For more information about quoted RANZCO spokespeople see;

Prof Frank Martin
A/Prof James Elder

Please contact Emma Carr at ecarr@ranzco.edu or on 02 9690 1001.