Tinted lens: hoax or help?

by John S. Cheetham, B.A., B.Ed., FS.S.E., M.A.C.E., A.LC.P, Director, Student Achievement Centre and J. A. Ovenden, L.O.Sc., Clinical Optometrist.


A study of 225 students who responded to the use of tinted lens indicates that tinted lens facilitate reading development with poor readers, but do not cure the reading problem.

As the use of a tinted lens leads to a reported dearer and more stable print image and better separation of words, the student is able to sustain concentration on those tasks conducive to reading improvement.


In 1985 Helen Irlen visited Australia and made available to the professional community some insights into her work with adult dyslexics in California. Since her visit to Australia, and the accompanying media interests in her techniques, discussion has taken place as to the
validity of using tinted glasses as a tool to assist reading development. Does the tinting work? If so, how does it work?

Irlen suggested that her research with adults who had reading difficulties showed that tinting does assist reading development.

The media, rather than Irlen, suggested that the tinting was a cure for dyslexia. Such does not seem to be the case from our work.

This study does not report on the Irlen lenses and their use, as the authors have developed a technique independent of that used by Irlen. Testing procedures, the formulation of a colour range and die manufacture of tinted glasses has been done within Australia. Beyond public statements made by Irlen about the use of tinted lenses, no access has been gained to her research studies or reports by her about her technique. Despite public statements made within Australia by Irlen that she would make available research findings to the professional community in Australia, none, to our knowledge, have been forthcoming. A search of the literature has also proven fruitless for us as well as for a number of searchers (Vardamme,1987 and Paphazy, 1987).

The technique

Our approach with people who present with a reading disability is to look at their functional level of reading, the characteristics of their oral reading, an analysis of their ability to spell, an analysis of their understanding and use of phonics and an enquiry about the way in wfiich the Teader sees the printed page. We have not viewed the visual aspect of reading skills separately from the auditory aspect, and both the auditory and visual components of reading come under our investigation. The procedure takes one to one and a half hours, dependent upon the age of the person presenting, and the level of reading skill that they have. Once the initial screening test, as we have termed this part of the procedure, has been completed, a referral has been made for a full optometric examination and fine tuning of tints if an appropriate and effective colour has been selected.

Age of people presenting

The average age of people presenting with a reading disability at the time of diagnosis has been 17.1 years. The range of age has been five years to fifty-eight years, 42% of whom have been in the eleven to fifteen year old age group. These people have been a mixture of male and female. 75% of people presenting have been males who have attended Private, Catholic or Ministry of Education schools, and a small percentage who have been involved in some full-time occupation.

Visual factors

It is interesting to note that within this population only 2.4% of people presenting have no visual problems. 97.6% of people seen have, in addition to the use of a coloured or tinted lens, had one or more of four types of visual difficulty:

  • Hyperopia (long-sighted). People presenting with hyperopia disorder of greater than 0.25 diopters numbered 164, representing 72.9% of the group.
  • Myopia (short-sighted). There were only 11 people with a myopic disorder of greater than 0.25 diopters. This represents 4.9% of people seen.
  • Astigmas. The number of people presenting with astigmas that were “with the rule” was 73, which is 34% of people seen. Those with “against the rule” astigmas numbered 84, which represents 39% of the group.
  • Phoras:
    • Vertical Phoria (where one eye is higher than the other). The average vertical phoria measured in degrees was 0.28, and 26% of the group had some form of vertical phoria.
    • Esophoria and exophoria (a tendency for the eyes to turn across eachother outwards). The average esophoric reading in degrees is 2.48, with 60% of the group having some form of esphoria. Exophoria was less common with an average deviation of 0.38%, and 19% of the population has some deviation of this type. Traditionally, these types of phorias are not viewed as being all that significatng in the reading process, however, it has been our view for some years that people who experience this dis-comfort that accompanies this type of difficulty do experience a lack of motivation to sustain their reading performance. They tend to be hesitant in their oral reading style and become impatient when reading.

Comparison with general optometric population

A review of data of optometric patients seen between the years 1930 to 1987 with the 225 people seen for tinting indicates that the number of people within this group who have “with the rule” astigmas is 10% less than a normal optometic population, yet those within this group who have “against the rule” astigmas are 16% higher than a normal optometic population. A comparison between this group who have an esophoric condition in excess of 20 is 28% higher than a general optometric population, although it is imporlant to note that this was rarely measured prior to 1970.

This population had a 29% greater incidence of exophoria and an 89'0 greater incidence of vertical phoria. The reliability of this data as a comparison between standard optometric population and this particular group who present with a positive response to tinting may be somewhat unreliable by the very nature of optometric tests conducted upon people who present to an optometrist for some visual difficulty, particularly noting that such things as esophoric and astigmatic conditions were not standard areas of examination by an optometrist prior to 1970.

Reading ability

The average difference between a performance on an Edwards Quick Word Reading Test and the actual level of schooling of people seen was a deficit of 2.3 years. This suggests that we have most commonly seen people who enquire about the use of tinting who are functioning about two years behind in their reading development. We acknowledge Word Reading Test, as it is a series of individual words compared to a piece of prose, and it appears that the closeness of words in a prose passage provides an area of difficulty in separating words when reading.

Phonic ability

This population of 225 people showed significant difficulty discriminating between long and short vowel sounds (63% of people tested) and experienced difficulty articulating vowel digraphs and diphthongs (58% of people tested). This suggests that a significant number of people, who present with a reading disability that responds to the use of tinted lenses, have become confused in the ability to de-code language and to blend sounds together. This may be consistant with the view that this population have difficulty in sustaining a constancy of visual image; as the print moves and blurrs they are unable to form a dear picture of the combination of letters within words, and hence, they become erratic in their approach to reading.

Often parents will say that one of the problems they experience is that they can notice the child read a word or series of words effectively and next time they hear similar words read to them it appears as if the child has completely forgotten what has been previously learnt. We have noticed that this problem disappears after some period of time using the tinted lens. This suggests that a stable and clear image is being formed for the reader.

Colour used

Reference to figure 1 will show the diversity of colour used across the spectrum from deep blue to red. The most common colour that had the desired effect was yellow, with 20% of the population choosing this colour. The next most commpn colour was green, with 29 people, or 12% selecting this as the colour. There is a peak at about 530, nanometers, and at about 570 nanometers.

Figure 2 shows the distribution between a main and secondary tint. A secondary tint is where a mixture of colours has been used to create the desired effect, and the preference in terms of colour tends to follow the pattern of main colours. Figure 3 shows the distribution of colour used for both males and females, and again a very simil pattern is seen, The density of colour ranges from 25% to 50% of light absorbed. It is interesting to note tints prescribedd for reading purposes are not as dark as the average sunglasses.


The descriptive view of 225 people who have benefitted from the use of tinted lenses raises some areas for properly constructed research. What is indicated at this stage is that the technique does have validity in a way that may be different to Irlen's verbal reports about her initial work. There is within this population a wide range of educational level and reading ability, and very few (as low or less than 1% of people seen) would be classified in the traditional sense of the Word as dyslexic.

The rate of response to the use of lens whilst not measured beyond parent reports, student reports and school reports, indicates a variable but positive response. Each person prescribed with tints or with prescription lenses that incorporates a tint have been offerred a money back guarantee which will refund to them a full cost of the frame and 50% of the cost of lens if there are no positive results within six weeks of use. To date no-one has made a claim, which in addition to the other informal measures sighted, indicates that users are satisfied with the lenses.

It is interesting to note within this population the large number of people who suffer from other visual disabilities apart from the use of the tint. It would appear that whatever this phenomena is that we are dealing with occurs in combination with other visual problems with a much higher degree of frequency. It is rare to see a student responding simply to a tint.

Secondly, it would be true to say that the tinted lenses are not a cure for the reading problem, but they facilitate the ability of students to gain more from conventional and special education teaching practices than they had gained prior to the use of the tints. Thirdly, the rate of response, whilst overwhelmingly positive, has varied from minor change to dramatic improvement. Why some people improve almost miraculously and others only make minor improvement warrants further investigation.

Finally, it is suggested that the difficulty with reading lies in the ability of the brain to process printed language and that the tints facilitate this process. Hopefully, as more research is conducted, our understanding of the differences in colour selection and the differences in rate of improvement through use of the tints will be better understood.

Whatever the cause of reading problems, this descriptive survey suggests that there is more than one single factor involved in reading disability and the relationship between the visual aspects of reading and the auditory aspects of reading are certainly apparent from looking at this group.


AU: Robert T. Solman, Hae-Sook Cho, Stephen J. Daint
TI: Colour-mediated grouping effects in good and disabled readers
SO: Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics
VL: 11
NO: 4
PG: 320-327
YR: 1991
ON: 1475-1313
PN: 0275-5408
AD: School of Education Studies, University of New South Wales, PO Box 1, Kensington, NSW 2033, Australia; School of Optometry, University of New South Wales, Kensington, Australia
DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-1313.1991.tb00232.x
US: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-1313.1991.tb00232.x