Irlen Syndrome: A Little-Known Disorder with a Big Impact

Irlen Syndrome

Do fluorescent lights ramp up feelings of anxiety, irritability, depression, or decreased concentration? Do you experience sensitivity to sunlight? Does the idea of being in a room with strobing lights make you feel stressed?

That is the case for “You” actress Ambyr Childers. When she visited Amen Clinics for an episode of Scan My Brain, she talked to Daniel Amen, MD, about her ADD/ADHD, depression, and memory issues. During the conversation, she also noted that she has issues with light sensitivity. She’s bothered by sunlight, glare, and headlights. “I get headaches around fluorescent lights,” she says.

Childers says she first began noticing light sensitivity when she would attend concerts or go to nightclubs. “As soon as you have the strobe lights and the loud music,” she says, “it became stressful, and I felt like I had a lot of anxiety.” Childers wishes she could have enjoyed concerts and nightclubs with her friends, but she crossed them off her to-do list.

The actress assumed the stress she experienced around strobing lights was simply related to anxiety, but Dr. Amen suggested there might be another cause—Irlen Syndrome.

Anyone experiencing light sensitivity, reading issues, or symptoms of anxiety, irritability, depression, or decreased concentration should be screened for Irlen Syndrome. Click To Tweet

WHAT IS IRLEN SYNDROME?

Irlen Syndrome, or Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome, is a visual processing issue. It is not a problem with the eyes, but rather with how the brain processes visual information. It can lead to light sensitivity, difficulties with reading, and more. For people who struggle with Irlen Syndrome, written words can appear fuzzy, may seem to move around the page, or may even disappear. Some individuals see objects as closer or farther away than they are, or in different locations entirely. Certain colors of the light spectrum can irritate the brain in those with the condition. People who have Irlen Syndrome may experience anxiety, concentration problems, or migraines as their brain works to process visual input.

Irlen Syndrome affects an estimated 14% of the general population, according to statistics from the Irlen Syndrome Foundation. The condition is more common in people with reading difficulties or dyslexia (46%), traumatic brain injuries or concussions (35%), attention and focus problems such as ADD/ADHD (33%), autism (33%), and those with treatment-resistant chronic headaches or migraines. Childers had been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD several years prior to her appointment at Amen Clinics.

SYMPTOMS OF IRLEN SYNDROME

Irlen Syndrome impacts people in different ways and symptoms include:

  • Light sensitivity; being bothered by glare, sunlight, headlights, or streetlights
  • Strain or fatigue with computer use
  • Fatigue, headaches, mood changes, restlessness, or an inability to stay focused with bright or fluorescent lights
  • Trouble reading words that are on white, glossy paper
  • Words or letters shifting, shaking, blurring, moving, running together, disappearing, or becoming difficult to perceive while reading
  • Difficulty reading music
  • Feeling tense, tired, sleepy, or even getting headaches with reading
  • Problems judging distance and difficulty with such things as escalators, stairs, ball sports, driving, or coordination
  • Migraine headaches

These issues can lead to other symptoms, such as anxiety, irritability, depression, or decreased concentration. If you experience fatigue, irritability, headaches, or eye strain while reading, or have emotional issues that don’t respond to standard treatment, it’s worth investigating Irlen Syndrome as a possible cause.

CAUSES OF IRLEN SYNDROME

Irlen Syndrome tends to run in families, and research suggests a genetic risk factor for the condition. One study looked at 2 samples of children with symptoms who were referred for Irlen Syndrome screening and found an 81%-85% chance that one or both of their parents had similar symptoms and a 54%-76% chance that their siblings were also affected. Experts also point to a number of other factors that may contribute to the issue, including head injuries and inflammatory processes, such as Lyme disease.

IRLEN SYNDROME AND THE BRAIN

Brain imaging research using SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography), functional MRI (fMRI), and visual evoked responses (VER) show that the brain functions differently in people with Irlen Syndrome.

In one study at Amen Clinics, SPECT scans of 42 people with Irlen Syndrome were compared with 200 age-matched individuals without the condition. In those with Irlen Syndrome, the brain scans showed increased activity in the brain’s emotional and visual processing centers and decreased activity in the cerebellum, an area that helps to integrate coordination and new information.

HOW IS IRLEN SYNDROME TREATED?

Irlen Syndrome is treated using the Irlen Method, a non-invasive technology that includes colored overlays and filters, as well as tinted eyeglass lenses or contact lenses. This unique treatment was developed by Dr. Helen Irlen, who discovered that colored, tinted overlays or lenses could be used to filter out specific wavelengths of light that are bothersome.

The results of this treatment can be dramatic. People with Irlen Syndrome report that using tinted overlays or colored lenses reduces reading distortion issues. This also lowers stress on the brain and allows it to function more efficiently. Treating Irlen Syndrome can also lead to improvements in reading comprehension, concentration, motivation, self-esteem, and academic/work performance, as well as reductions in anxiety, depression, fatigue, and headaches.

It’s important to understand that tinted lenses from an optometrist are not the same as the colored lenses required to treat Irlen Syndrome. To ensure the proper diagnosis and treatment, be sure to visit a certified Irlen Screener.

Irlen Syndrome and related anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

3 Comments »

  1. Interesting! Sounds like my adult son and I may share this syndrome. This is a must look into item. Thank you!

    Comment by Pamela Chatley — November 11, 2022 @ 8:35 AM

  2. Can this come on at any age?

    Comment by Carolyn Joy I. Headrick — November 11, 2022 @ 9:04 AM

  3. This article is amazing! I have all these symptoms. I suffer everyday my whole life.

    Comment by Donna Teague — November 14, 2022 @ 7:13 AM

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