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Irlen syndrome: expensive lenses for this ill defined syndrome exploit patients

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g4872 (Published 29 July 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g4872
  1. Gwyn Samuel Williams, ST6 ophthalmology, Singleton Hospital, Swansea SA2 8QA
  1. gwynwilliams{at}doctors.org.uk

So called scotopic sensitivity syndrome, or Irlen syndrome, is being promoted to patients who are then sold products to improve their reading speed—but they have no published evidence of efficacy, says Gwyn Samuel Williams

“Well, doctor? Does she have Irlen syndrome?”

“Irlen syndrome?” I stifled my discomfort: I hadn’t heard of this seemingly common eye disease despite recent revision for my final postgraduate ophthalmology exams. The mother recognised that the ophthalmologist did not know what this condition was—“just like the support group woman said would happen.” She took some literature from her handbag with barely disguised contempt, and her young daughter continued attempting to dismantle the slit lamp as I scanned the leaflets.

Irlen syndrome, also known as “scotopic sensitivity syndrome,” was being publicised by a company called the Irlen Institute based in California. It sells expensive filtered lenses to people with vague collections of symptoms who tend not to trust eye professionals. I gave an honest assessment of what I thought: …

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