The effect of coloured overlays and lenses on reading: a systematic review of the literature

Philip Griffiths, Robert Taylor, Lisa-Marie Henderson, Brendan T. Barrett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: There are many anecdotal claims and research reports that coloured lenses and overlays improve reading performance. Here we present the results of a systematic review of this literature and examine the quality of the evidence.
Methods: We systematically reviewed the literature concerning the effect of coloured lenses or overlays on reading performance by searching the PsychInfo, Medline and Embase databases. This revealed 51 published items (containing 54 data sets). Given that different systems are in use for issuing coloured overlays or lenses, we reviewed the evidence under four separate system headings (Intuitive, Irlen, Harris/Chromagen and Other); classifying each published item using the Cochrane Risk of Bias tool.
Results: Although the different colour systems have been subjected to different amounts of scientific scrutiny, the results do not differ according to the system type, or whether the sample under investigation was classified as having visual stress (or a similarly defined condition), reading difficulty, or both. The majority of studies are subject to ‘high’ or ‘uncertain’ risk of bias in one or more key aspects of study design or outcome, with studies at lower risk from bias providing less support for the benefit of coloured lenses/overlays on reading ability. While many studies report improvements with coloured lenses, the effect size is generally small and/or similar to the improvement found with a placebo condition. We discuss the strengths and shortcomings of the published literature and, whilst acknowledging the difficulties associated with conducting trials of this type, offer some suggestions about how future trials might be conducted.
Conclusions: Consistent with previous reviews and advice from several professional bodies, we conclude that the use of coloured lenses or overlays to ameliorate reading difficulties cannot be endorsed and that any benefits reported by individuals in clinical settings are likely to be the result of placebo, practice or Hawthorne effects.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)519-544
Number of pages26
JournalOphthalmic and physiological optics
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2016

Bibliographical note

© 2016 The Authors. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details. Embargo period: 12 months


  • Meares Irlen syndrome
  • coloured lenses
  • coloured overlays
  • reading
  • scotopic sensitivity syndrome
  • visual stress

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