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Color Blindness: An Overview


Color blindness is a disorder impacting the ability to see colors with normal lighting conditions or to perceive colors as they are seen by normal individuals. Generally, the condition is genetic, but it can also be a result of injuries or a number of diseases of the eye.


Color perception depends on cones located within the retina of the eye. Humans are generally born with three types of pigmented cones, each perceiving a different range of wavelengths. This is comparable to the wavelengths of sound. With colors, the length of the wave is directly related to the resulting color. Short waves produce blues, middle-sized waves project greens and longer waves produce red tones. The type of cone that is affected impacts the spectrum and severity of the color deficiency.


Being a sex-linked recessive trait, many more men are found to be green-red color blind than women. Still, there are a number of females who do experience some degree of color vision deficiency, specifically blue-yellow color blindness.


Color vision deficiencies are not a devastating condition, but it can impair learning and development and restrict choices of careers. The inability to distinguish colors as peers do could noticeably and negatively impact a student's self-esteem. For working people, color blindness could present a disadvantage when running against colleagues trying to advance in a similar industry.


Eye doctors use a number of exams for the condition. The most widely used is the Ishihara color exam, called after its designer. In this test a patient views a plate with a group of dots in a circle in differing colors and sizes. Inside the circle one with proper color vision can see a numerical figure in a particular tint. The individual's capability to see the digit inside the dots of clashing colors determines the level of red-green color vision.


While genetic color blindness can't be corrected, there are a few steps that can assist to improve the situation. Some evidence shows that using colored contacts or anti-glare glasses can help to see the differences between colors. More and more, new computer programs are being developed for regular computers and for mobile machines that can assist people to distinguish color better depending upon their specific diagnosis. There is also exciting research underway in gene therapy to improve the ability to perceive colors.


How much color blindness limits a person depends on the kind and degree of the deficiency. Some patients can accommodate to their condition by familiarizing themselves with substitute cues for determining a color scheme. For example, they can learn the order of traffic signals or compare items with reference objects like a blue body of water or green trees.


If you notice signs that you or your family member could have a color vision deficiency it's important to see an eye doctor. The sooner you are aware of a problem, the easier it will be to manage. Feel free to call our Fairfax, VA optometry practice for information about scheduling an exam.