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Defining the condition 


Investigation into pattern sensitivity and the resulting symptoms of seizures, headaches and perceptual distortions began in the early 1970s when Dr. Arnold Wilkins discovered that the factors that promote seizures were very similar to the factors that cause headaches. He found that some cases of pattern-sensitive epilepsy could be treated with colour filters. In the early 1980s, when reports were made for using colour filters to help with some reading difficulties, investigation began into the potential use of coloured filters to help with other neurological conditions.  


In the 1990s, Wilkins developed the Intuitive Colorimeter to determine the optimal filter colour by systematically evaluating the three aspects of colour: hue, saturation and brightness. This equipment has been used to carry out scientific research into this effect, concentrating on defining the condition, clarifying the key indicators, determining the origin and further developing the solutions.  

Green tinted lenses on notebook

1) Pattern sensitivity and Visual Stress 

Visual Stress manifests when viewing certain image types such as repetitive striped patterns. The intensity of these effects will vary according to individual susceptibility and the precise nature of the pattern, most notably, its spatial frequency and contrast level. An adverse response when viewing stimuli of this type (i.e., striped patterns) has been termed pattern glare. For susceptible individuals, this sensitivity to pattern glare can result in Visual Stress, giving rise to symptoms of eyestrain, headaches and glare, along with illusions of colours, shapes and motion. ​


  1. Visual stress. Oxford University Press, Oxford - Wilkins, A.J. (1995)

  2. A neurological basis for visual discomfort. Brain 107:989–1017 - Wilkins AJ, Nimmo-Smith I, Tait A, McManus C, Della Sala S, Tilley A, Arnold K, Barrie M, Scott S (1984)

  3. On the reduction of eyestrain when reading. Ophthal Physiol Opt 4:53–59- Wilkins AJ, Nimmo-Smith I (1984)

  4. Tinted lenses and related therapies for learning disabilities: a review. Ophthal Physiol Opt 11:206–217- Evans BJW, Drasdo N (1991)

  5. Evans, B.J.W. & Stevenson, S.J. 2008. The Pattern Glare Test: a review and determination of normative values. Ophthal.Physiol.Opt., 28, 295-309 

2) Origins of Visual Stress 

The characteristics of the visual stimulus, which cause, or at least contribute to Visual Stress, are sensory in origin and, therefore, distinguishable from factors of motor origin, such as oculomotor balance, binocular vergence and accommodation. The origins of pattern glare and Visual Stress are thought to arise due to cortical hyperactivation.


  1. A neurological basis for visual discomfort. Brain 107:989–1017 - Wilkins AJ, Nimmo-Smith I, Tait A, McManus C, Della Sala  S,Tilley A, Arnold K, Barrie M, Scott S (1984)

  2. Binocular vision, age and symptoms. Ophthal Physiol Opt 9:115–120 - Yekta AA, Pickwell LD, Jenkins TCA (1989)

  3. fMRI evidence that precision ophthalmic tints reduce cortical hyperactivation in migraine. Cephalalgia 31(8):925–936 - Huang J, Zong X, Wilkins A, Jenkins B, Bozoki A, Cao Y (2011)

  4. Some visual, optometric and perceptual effects of coloured glasses. Ophthal Physiol Opt 1:163–171 - Wilkins AJ, Neary C (1991)

  5. The optometric correlates of migraine. Ophthal Physiol Opt 24:369–383 - Harle DE, Evans BJ (2004)

  6. Visual stimuli are common triggers of migraine and are associated with pattern glare. Headache 46:1431–1440 - Harle DE, Shepherd AJ, Evans BJ (2006)

3) Solutions for Visual Stress

A large volume of research provides evidence that colour filters reduce Visual Stress. In 1994, while at the Medical Research Council Applied Psychology Unit in Cambridge, UK, Dr. Arnold Wilkins invented the MRC Intuitive Colorimeter and precision tints. This facilitated one of the best-known studies into Visual Stress. Many studies have also found that the optimal colour needs to be individually prescribed and sometimes with considerable precision.

  1. Double-masked placebo-controlled trial of precision spectral filters in children who use coloured overlays. Ophthal.Physiol.Opt., 14, 365-370 - Wilkins, A.J., Evans, B.J.W., Brown, J., Busby, A., Wingfield, A.E., Jeanes, R., & Bald, J. 1994

  2. How precise do precision tints have to be and how many are necessary? Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, 25, (3) 269-276 - Wilkins, A., Sihra, N., & Nimmo-Smith, I. 2005

  3. Both coloured overlays and coloured lenses can improve reading fluency, but their optimal chromaticities differ. Ophthal.Physiol.Opt., - Lightstone, A., Lightstone, T., & Wilkins, A. 1999. 19, (4) 279-285

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Central Nervous System Medical Journal, Volume 6 January 2021

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