The term color blindness is actually a misnomer. If a person is color blind, they don’t actually have a problem with their sight. Being color blind simply means that you find it hard to tell the difference between certain colors. This vision deficiency means that you might, for instance, have difficulty distinguishing between green and red, or yellow and blue.
Here is an explanation of color vision deficiency, some of the causes, and some ways to cope with the condition.
What is Color Vision Deficiency?
Most color blind people were born with the condition. It tends to affect males more than females. While it’s estimated that about 8 percent of males of Northern European ancestry are color blind, only about 0.5 percent of females of that ancestry have it.1
The most common type of color blindness is a red-green color vision deficiency. It’s a lot less common for someone to have a blue-yellow color vision deficiency.2
There are varying degrees of color blindness. People who are completely color blind can only see black and white, or different shades of grey. But many people with color blindness can actually see colors – they just see washed-out versions of those colors.3
Common Causes of Color Blindness
Being color blind doesn’t necessarily mean you have a problem with your eye health. The retina portion of the eye contains cells that are sensitive to light. In most people, these cells respond correctly to different wavelengths of light, allowing them to see a wide variety of colors. When someone is color blind, however, those cells don’t respond to those wavelengths the same way.4
The main cause of color blindness is heredity.
Your retina is filled with rods and cones, which function as photoreceptors. There are about 100 million rods in the retina. Rods help you see at night or in low-light settings, but they can’t perceive color. That’s the job of the cones. There are three types of cones, one each sensitive to either red, blue, or green. There are about 6 million cones in the average retina.5
When someone is born with color blindness, either one or more type of cones is faulty, or there is a bad connection between the cones and the brain.6
One type of hereditary color blindness is known as Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON). This condition is defined by a rapid deterioration in your central vision, and can cause color blindness as it progresses.7 Another hereditary condition is known as Kallmann’s syndrome. While normally associated with the slow development of sexual organs, Kallmann’s syndrome can also play a role in causing color blindness.8
There are other, non-hereditary conditions that may also contribute to color blindness. If you haven’t had problems seeing colors in the past, but all of a sudden, you do, schedule an appointment with your doctor.
Here are a few of the potential health problems that could be the cause of sudden color blindness.
Aging and Injuries
As you get older, you may experience damage to the areas of your retina that control the way you perceive color. This most often occurs after age 70, and it commonly affects the ability to see blue-yellow colors.9In addition, an injury to your brain can also affect the areas of the organ that process your vision. This, in turn, can result in an inability to properly distinguish colors.10
Cataracts cause the lens of the eye to cloud over. This can lead to colors seeming to be washed out, or less bright than normal. Cataracts can typically be addressed through a surgical procedure that involves replacing the natural lens with an artificial one. In most cases, this will restore the eye’s normal sight.
Living with Color Blindness
Until scientists and doctors are able to come up with an effective way to address color blindness, those with the condition must find ways of coping with it. Fortunately, most people who are color blind can get along just fine.
However, some professions require the ability to distinguish colors. For example, electricians have to deal with wires of various colors, and it’s a safety issue if they can’t. Graphic designers also have to accurately tell the differences between colors. People with color blindness will typically need to look for professions that don’t require the ability to see the full-color spectrum.
It’s important that color blindness is diagnosed early in life, because the condition could lead to learning issues. Many younger children need to be able to see different colors in order to correctly use certain educational materials. If your child has been diagnosed as color blind, you’ll need to speak with their teachers. That way, they can adjust their lesson plans so your child can progress through school at the proper pace.12
There are some people with color vision deficiency who use lenses containing special color filters. Available for both glasses and contact lenses, these filters may help enhance the perception of color.13
When it comes to everyday life, a little ingenuity can go a long way toward helping someone who has color blindness. For example, you might want to label your clothes, so that your wardrobe doesn’t clash. Some people memorize objects by order rather than color. For example, they might not know that the light at the top of a stoplight is red. But they know the middle light means they need to slow down, the top light means they need to stop, and the bottom light means they can go.14
Wrapping it Up
If you know someone with color blindness — or you’re color blind yourself — it’s important to note that the condition really isn’t a vision problem. It’s simply an inability to distinguish between certain colors. While the most common cause is heredity, if it develops later in life, it could be a sign of an eye health problem. If you suddenly have a hard time telling the difference between certain colors, and you didn’t have this difficulty before, see your doctor.
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