New lenses used to treat dyslexia

May 2, 2013 7:55:36 PM PDT
For children and adults struggling with dyslexia, reading can often be a challenge. But a system of lenses has won clearance from the Food and Drug Administration to treat certain symptoms associated with the condition.

For Chloe Broyles, reading books like Jack London's classic, The Call of the Wild, is less of a struggle than it would have been a few months ago.

"It was just really hard to read because the words would float, the words would flip back and forth," she says.

Chloe has been diagnosed with dyslexia, a learning disability that impairs one's ability to read quickly and accurately; comprehension is impacted as well. But several months ago optometrist Thomas Swanson, OD, fitted her with a set of colored lenses manufactured by a company called Chromagen.

"I was skeptical when I first got the lenses," Swanson acknowledges. "I knew the lenses worked for color vision, but I wasn't sure for dyslexia."

Dr. Swanson says the individual lenses modify the wavelength of light entering each eye. One theory is that a dyslexic's eyes don't process information at the same speed. During a fitting the optometrist will test different combinations. The idea is that the correct combination can balance the speed with which the images travel from the eyes through key optical pathways in the brain.

"They discovered that by changing wavelength by filters they could actually cause a better communication by the two sides of the brain," he explains.

The lenses have been used to treat problems like reduced color perception and some reading disorders for years. But optometrist Elio Polsinelli, OD, who serves on the board of governors for the San Francisco Optometric Society says the use for dyslexia is a departure, because many experts consider the condition neurological in origin.

"So dyslexia is treated by a learning specialist, who is specifically trained in dyslexia. An optometrist will treat the visual deficiencies of the system such a focusing, convergence and tracking," says Polsinelli.

Critics point to the limited research supporting the technology's effectiveness in treating dyslexia. So far there has been only one large scale study of 150 dyslexic students, sponsored by the company, which claims the lenses helped more than half the students.

But supporters like Swanson believe there will be a growing body of evidence as use of the lenses becomes more widespread. "The statement that it's working for dyslexia is not accepted yet. It's too new. But I'm a believer because I've seen it work."

The cost of the lenses, including fitting, can run more than $700. Despite FDA approval, they are typically not covered by insurance.

Written and produced by Tim Didion.


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