Tinted lenses bring words into living colour

Future's bright ... George Joubert of Castle Hill with his blue tinted glasses which have helped his reading.
Future's bright ... George Joubert of Castle Hill with his blue tinted glasses which have helped his reading. Photo: Jon Reid

Life may look good through rose-coloured glasses, but it's even better through tints of teal and peach - especially for people with migraines and learning difficulties.

Experts say coloured lenses, popular in Britain for decades, could help up to 50 per cent of children and adults affected by glare-induced headaches and reading problems, but the treatment has been slow to gain ground in Australia.

In some people visual distortions are caused by the brain failing properly to process glare. Sufferers have faulty depth perception and trouble reading because words on a page can appear to be moving, blurred, faded or swirling.

The disorder was identified in 1994 by Helen Irlen, an American literacy instructor, after one of her students reported being able to read properly using a red plastic overlay left in the room from a previous class.

Since then, thousands of people previously diagnosed as slow learners or dyslexic have been successfully treated using colour therapy.

There are five testing centres in NSW which treat Irlen Syndrome but Sydney optometrist David Evian believes many more people could be helped if the condition was more readily diagnosed when people presented for eye tests.

More than 1500 people have been fitted with coloured lenses at his practice in the past two years, with many travelling from South-East Asia, after he spent $10,000 on a machine offering thousands of colour and tint combinations.

The machine, one of only four in Australia, was presented at the Optical Distributors and Manufacturers Association trade fair at Sydney's Darling Harbour at the weekend.

"I've been interested in colour for decades and I've seen some great results," Mr Evian said. "I am not saying colour alone solves the problem - first we find the right prescription and then add the right tint. And there is no cure for dyslexia but this certainly has been shown to give people a far greater quality of life. It stops the words running across the page like ants."

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Usually people respond to one of six main colour combinations, with blue, teal and peach being the most popular, but any one of thousands of hues could work, he said.

For George Joubert, 9, of Castle Hill, Sydney, new blue lenses have helped him read properly for the first time.

"He couldn't read anything without it jumping up and down on the page, but his school work has really improved in the past three months and he's a much happier boy," his mother, Zelia, said yesterday.

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