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Health and Fitness News

Understanding Color Blindness

Inside a world without colors.

Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and every color in between. You see these colors every day. The bright blue sky, the green leaves on the trees, and your child’s big brown eyes. What would life be like without such diversity of color? While the majority of the population can see color, some people are colorblind or color deficient. This means they can’t tell the difference between certain colors. Reds, greens, and sometimes blues are affected. In rare cases, people can only see shades of gray.

What causes color blindness and what are the types? How is it diagnosed and are there any treatments? Keep reading to find out.

Rods and Cones

Your eyes contain cells that identify color. The rod cells decipher between lights and darks and the cone cells detect color. Red, green, and blue cones send information to the brain to perceive color. When one or more color cones are missing or not working properly, you are colorblind.

Color blindness ranges from mild to severe. When red, blue, and green cones are there but just one doesn’t do their jobs, you’ve got a mild case. In these instances, it may be hard to see specific colors in dim light or you may perceive colors in different shades than normal. Severe cases occur when you’re missing all three types of cone cells and you can only see shades of gray.

Most color blindness is congenital, so thank your parents for the condition. You inherit the genes that determine how you see color. Women typically pass color blindness on to their sons. That said, certain people become color blind later in life due to disease or physical damage to the eye, the optic nerve that connects the eye to the brain, or the part of the brain that’s responsible for deciphering color.

As many as 1 in 10 men and only half of a percent of women of Northern European descent have some degree of color blindness.

Types of Color Blindness

Of all types of color blindness, red-green is the most common. Occurring when you’re missing or have ill-functioning red or green cones, red-green color blindness presents itself in different ways. For some people, reds, yellows, and oranges have a green tint, and the colors aren’t very bright. For others, reds look black, and oranges, yellows, and greens take on a yellow hue. In some cases, individuals see reds as brown-yellow and greens as beige. With the most common type of red-green color blindness, yellows and greens appear red and it’s impossible to tell the difference between blue and violet.

Blue-yellow color blindness isn’t as common, but folks with this type of condition see blue as green and can’t tell the difference between yellows, reds, and pinks. Some people may see green instead of blue and violet or gray instead of yellow.

Color Tests

Just because you don’t think you’re colorblind doesn’t mean you see things as they are. In fact, many people have such mild forms of color blindness they aren’t even aware of it. To diagnose color blindness, an ophthalmologist uses a series of simple color tests. Within a circle of colored dots is a shape or number made of different colored dots. People with normal vision will clearly see the shape or number, while those who are colorblind will not.

Unfortunately, someone who’s congenitally color blind will always be colorblind. If the condition interferes with daily living, special glasses or contact lenses can be prescribed to help. Color blindness that develops later in life should be evaluated immediately by a medical professional. By treating the underlying cause, the affected individual may be able to see normally again. And to make it easier for the colorblind to decipher colors accurately, a number of apps have been developed and made available on most smartphones.