Color blindness isn't a threat to your sight or health. However it can complicate daily life, making it hard to drive or identify fresh food.
This condition makes it difficult to distinguish between certain colors like red and green or blue and yellow.
So what exactly is color blindness?
There Are Several Types of Color Blindness
Because our color vision is based on an interaction of three color photopigments - red, green, and blue - a deficiency in any one can lead to color blindness. The photopigment affected will determine the type of color blindness you have.
Seen most often in men, this form of color blindness may leave you unable to see reds or greens. There are many variations: some see red and orange as green, some see red as black, and so on.
People with this form of color blindness cannot see blues or yellows. As a result, blue may look green and yellow may look violet or grey.
Total Color Blindness
With this extremely rare form of color blindness, everything either looks the same color or has no color at all. It is often accompanied by an intense sensitivity to light.
So who’s at risk?
Because the genes tied to color vision are located on the X chromosome, any person with a Y chromosome is more likely to have color blindness. While someone with two X chromosomes may have at least one set of abnormal color vision genes, it is very unlikely that both sets will be affected. However, for a person with only one X chromosome, there is no back-up set.
But What Causes Color Blindness?
Color blindness is most often inherited. Our eyes detect color with specialized, cone-shaped cells that contain three types of photopigments: red, green, and blue. If any one of the three genes responsible for these photopigments is abnormal or deficient, then the result is usually some form of color blindness.
Less common are forms of color blindness tied to other health problems. Diseases that affect the eye, optic nerve, or the color processing parts of the brain can lead to color blindness. The most common examples include Parkinson’s disease, cataracts, and Kallmann syndrome.
Certain drugs have been known to undermine or damage our color vision. The best-known is Tiagabine, an anti-epilepsy medication that can temporarily cause color blindness.
How common is color blindness?
Almost 8 percent of men and 0.5 percent of women with Northern European ancestry have red-green color blindness. National Eye Institute (NEI)
Is There a Way to Prevent Color Blindness?
Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent inherited color blindness. In most cases, you can learn workarounds to make day-to-day life simpler.
For example, it’s easier for a colorblind person to memorize the order of red, yellow, and green traffic lights than to try to distinguish between them while driving.
When it comes to picking outfits, you may find it helpful to label your clothes according to color to avoid clashing.
I think I might be colorblind, but how can I be sure?
Confirming a Diagnosis
Ishihara color test: One of the most common color blindness tests available, the Ishihara color test, is designed to check for red-green color blindness. It consists of a series of large circles made up of a collection of different sized and colored dots. These dots form shapes that are difficult or impossible to see if you are color blind.
While the Ishihara color test is the one most frequently used, many others exist. Some of the more popular tests include the Farnsworth-Munsell 100 hue test, which asks participants to arrange blocks of color according to hue, and the Farnsworth Lantern (FALANT) test, which evaluates the severity of a person’s color blindness.
While many of these tests are available online, patients who suspect they are color blind should visit their doctor for an official diagnosis.
So I’m colorblind. What does that mean for me?
Living with Color Blindness
At this point in time, there is no cure for inherited color blindness. However, there are many technologies that can help minimize the effects.
One of the most exciting of these technologies is specialized eyewear that enhances color perception. Patients who wear these glasses or contacts can effectively see the full range of colors.
Apps offer more affordable solutions. A number of smart phone apps can identify colors from photos, a feature that can be especially helpful when purchasing or cooking food.
When color blindness is the result of another health condition, treating the underlying cause usually eliminates the visual problems. For example, cataract surgery can resolve any related color blindness in addition to sharpening your vision.
Where do I go from here?
Managing a Life Without Colors
Color blindness is not a life or death matter, but staying aware of differences in your vision can make your day-to-day life less challenging. If you suspect you have color blindness, reach out to your doctor to learn about your options.