One of the most interesting clinics I attended in my final year at uni was a visual stress clinic.  I was supposed to be watching one of the staff optoms do a full eye test but, on the day I was scheduled, there were no refraction patients.

The first visual stress patient was a 10 year old boy, B, who had already been diagnosed with visual stress.  He had a lovely pair of glasses with a dark green tint.  The optom, W, asked him to read a passage of random words without his specs.  He struggled.  W asked him some questions about how he perceived the passage of words.  Did it look as if the words were moving? Were they coming out of the page? Was the white space forming patterns? Did he see colours around the words?

At this point, alarm bells started ringing in my head.

Anyway, B popped his forest green glasses on and read the text but, this time, his reading speed was faster and there was new-found confidence in his voice when he said each word.  He had skipped a few words and then skipped a full line without the specs on but now he read every single word.  I was really impressed.  W checked the colour of his tint to see if it had changed since the last time he was in (it hadn’t).  

In the waiting room, his mum told W how well B was doing in school.  He’d gone from dreading school to looking forward to going back after the holidays.

I don’t mind admitting that I had gone into the clinic a bit unconvinced about visual stress but, after seeing the difference in B, I was rethinking my stance.  

The next patient was a girl, L, who was around 15.  She was dyslexic and had been using Cerium tinted glasses for a few years.  Over the years, her tint had gotten lighter and lighter and now it was a light grey-green, much like a 86% sunban tint.  Again, I saw the same phenomenon – a stilted reading of the random words, some questions about the appearance of the text and then a big improvement in her reading with the specs on.  The improvement for L wasn’t as marked as it was for B.  She still struggled a little but she read more quickly with her tint than without and, again, there was a little more confidence in her voice.  Again, W checked the tint and then L and her dad left to go back to school.

Those were the only two patients booked in and I took the opportunity, after the clinic, to speak to W.  I asked her about the questions she asked B and L.  What if someone had answered yes to a few of them? Would they have visual stress?

W smiled and said, “I think you should book yourself an appointment.’

I asked the head of the visual stress clinics if I could book myself in and she immediately asked if I took migraine.  This caught me off guard, “Yes. Why?”

“Migraines can be associated with visual stress.”

So, the next week, I was sitting in the chair that L and B had been in and now W was asking me the questions.

I’ve had migraines since I was 18.  They didn’t seem to follow a pattern at the time but, looking back, I always had them in the winter and rarely in the summer.  They would intensify in November/December and then ease off a little and get worse again in May/June.  At first, I thought they might be stress related since I was at uni (doing my first degree) and that’s when I was studying for my exams.  After I graduated, I went into a PhD but the migraines continued.  When I started my second degree, they got gradually worse until there was a month where, every Friday at 2.30pm, I had a migraine.  

I take a full migraine, complete with aura, nausea and loss of speech (and speech comprehension).  My husband knows I’m about to have one when he speaks to me and I just stare at him because I can’t process what he’s saying.  During one terrifying migraine (during that month of horrible Fridays), I lost colour vision.  It happened slowly as I tried to get home from uni before the headache hit.  I was almost at my flat when, all of a sudden, I realised everything was yellow/brown.  It was like someone had applied a sepia tint to my world.  When I got home, I went straight to bed in a dark room and, when I woke up, my colour vision had returned.

My doctor had always told me that migraines were caused by foods like cheese or chocolate or that they could be stress related.  I’d never heard of visual stress until I was at uni studying optometry.

When I watched B read, I saw myself, really.  I skip words and lines when I’m reading (which means I tend to reread the same sentence or paragraph a couple of times) and text never seemed flat to me.  I also have constant sparkly yellow flecks in my vision, like static on a TV screen.  I have real difficulty reading text on certain coloured paper but other colours make the text clearer (I actually found this out by mistake a few years ago when I ran out of white paper and filled my printer with a multicoloured paper pack for printing my uni notes, much like the guys in the post called “Borrowed Story”).  The shimmering yellow is worse when I’m reading, it seems to flutter around the text and makes the words look as if they are moving.

I do realise that, reading this, you might think I’m mad.  In fact, describing it to W was embarrassing because part of me was still unconvinced about the whole thing.  I was 31 and this was normal to me.  Surely, if I had problems reading, it would’ve affected me more.  I read for pleasure.  I finished the last Harry Potter book in one go (although it did take me 8 hours). 

When W tested my reading speed, I was about average.  Yes, I skipped a couple of words and, no, I wasn’t allowed to use my finger to keep track on the page, which would be my instinct for something I want to read carefully.

I went over to the calorimeter.  Staring into a little black box, different coloured light was shone on a passage of text and I had to tell W if it was better or worse.  We narrowed down the colours and I had to choose between a couple of them.  In the end, a yellow-green seemed to make everything a bit sharper.

The colorimeter provided a starting point and W showed me several versions of the yellow-green colour and asked me to choose.  When I had my final colour, I then read the random word passage again.  I didn’t miss any words and I read it 30% faster.  The words seemed to separate.  The yellowy sparkles don’t completely disappear with the glasses on but my tint seems to minimise them so they aren’t as distracting.

I got my Cerium tint at the start of my final year and I used it when I was in uni and when I was studying at home.  I stopped having migraines.  Magic.


My Cerium tinted specs