Healthbeat Report: Special Specs

Sept. 1, 2011 (CHICAGO)

It's estimated that one in 10 students is dyslexic. Tutoring and special education can help.

Now, a newer version of a debatable approach is offering another option: colored lenses promoted as way to alleviate reading trouble symptoms.

Michael Carter, 7, struggles with reading. His mother says he has development issues, but she had no idea when he looked at words he might see a jumbled mess. So they are trying different visual treatments, including specially colored lenses.

"A lot of times you will just hold a color up and the words just stand still. They are not as straining to look at They are more comfortable to see," said Jennifer Johnson, optometrist, Absolute Vision Care.

Johnson is testing Carter for ChromaGen lenses. She holds a different color in front of each ey and he looks at words. The different colors are said to work by changing the wavelength of light going into the eyes. The belief is both eyes don't process information at the same speed, causing symptoms related to reading disorders such as dyslexia and color blindness. They include double vision, blurry or moving text, words that scrunch together or pull apart or jumbled handwriting.

"What the filter lenses do lwhen they are prescribed in each eye individually is to balance or synchronize that information processing that goes from the eye to the brain and once you can process that information more effectively the symptoms go away reading speed rate and comprehension may improve," said Michael Politzer, neuro-optometrist, ChromaGen advisor.

Sullivan Sheahan, 12, was seeing double and blurry words. He got the lenses last school year which can be incorporated into contacts or eyeglasses.

"When I got them, my first six weeks I made straight A's," said Sheahan.

The lenses are not a cure and critics question if they really help at all.

In a joint report, both the American Academy of Pediatrics and Ophthalmology, along with other organizations, say there is no scientific evidence to show colored lenses work for learning disabilities, including dyslexia. UIC ophthalmologist Jose de la Cruz agrees.

"It's frustrating to see somebody when they spend a significant amount of money on something that you know is not proven, it's not going to be that much beneficial to the patient," said Dr. de la Cruz.

He says dyslexia is a brain based disorder, not a vision problem. He suspects the colored glasses make images easier to see but questions claims of improved reading.

"It is only addressing the issue of seeing better contrast in letters. It doesn't address the issue of the cognitive problem of dyslexia," said Dr. de la Cruz.

ChromaGen claims it has the research to show the lenses work. And they are FDA approved for reading discomfort and colorblindness. But that approval doesn't mean it will work for everyone.

"It doesn't mean it is going to work for everyone. It's about half, they say it's about half the people with these visual symptoms might benefit from these," said Johnson.

Kimberly Carter's son now has the colored glasses. She says they seem to work for him and his reading ability is improving.

"I'm not saying it's the cure-all end all. It's one of the things that can help him process properly," said Carter.

Different varieties of colored lenses have been around for years. The ChromaGen lenses are made to look more like tinted glasses so there are less noticeable.

The company tells ABC7 the glasses can cost anywhere from $700 to $1,000. Contacts are about half that price. The filters are not typically covered by insurance and the screening cost will vary from doctor to doctor.


American Academy of Pediatrics

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