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What is Color Blindness and What Causes it?

August 3, 2017

Color blindness is a common and well known condition. However, many don’t know where it comes from, how it works, or even if it can be treated.

To start with, color blindness is a genetic condition, meaning you are born with it. The gene responsible for the condition is carried by the X chromosome, which is why it affects men more than women. Specifically, color blindness means you have trouble seeing red, green, blue, or a mix of these colors. The eye normally has three types of cone cells, and each type sense either red, green or blue light. Inherited color blindness occurs when you don’t have one of these types of cone cells or they won’t work correctly. Instead, you either don’t see the basic colors, or you may see a different shade of the color or just a different color altogether.

A color deficiency isn’t always inherited, it can also be caused by:

  • Aging
  • Injury to an eye
  • Side effects of some medicines
  • Eye problems such as macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma

Being affected by color deficiency can range from mild, moderate to severe, all depending upon the defect. If it is inherited, your condition will stay the same throughout your life, rather than getting better or worse. Being affected can be a big change in your life. It may make it harder to read, learn, as well as limiting career choices.

It is important to detect the problem as soon as possible as it can affect various aspects on someone’s life. Most experts recommend eye exams for children between ages 3 and 5. Tests include:

  • Seeing a set of colored dots and trying to find a pattern in them, such as numbers or letters. With the patterns you see, it helps your doctor determine which colors you have trouble with.
  • The second test involves arranging colored chips in order according to how similar the colors are. Those with color vision problems, cannot arrange the colored chips correctly.

Color blindness cannot be treated or corrected. For the most common type of colorblindness, red-green, treatment is not needed because you are still able to function normally. You simply may not be aware that you do not see colors the way they are seen by others. There are several ways to help such as:

  • Wearing colored contact lens allows you to see differences between colors.
  • Wearing glasses that block glare can help those with more severe to better determine the difference between colors when there is glare and brightness.
  • Looking for cues like brightness or location instead of colors. Learning the order of the three colored lights on a traffic signal can help make up for the lack of color seen.