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A Differently Colored Life: What is Color Blindness?

Color blindness is a condition impacting one's ability to see colors with typical light or to discern colors as they are viewed by typical people. Generally, the condition is genetic, but it can also be a result of accidents or a number of diseases of the eye.

The discernment of color depends on the cones found in the eye's macula. People are usually born with three kinds of pigmented cones, all perceiving differing wavelengths of color. This is similar to wavelengths of sound. When it comes to shades of color, the size of the wave is directly related to the perceived color tone. Long waves produce reds, middle-sized waves generate greens and short waves produce blue tones. Which type of cone is affected impacts the nature and level of the color blindness.

Because it is a sex-linked genetically recessive trait, green-red color deficiency is more frequent in men than in females. Nevertheless, there are plenty of females who do suffer some degree of color blindness, specifically blue-yellow color blindness.

Some individuals obtain color blindness later on resulting from another condition including aging, injuries and especially macular degeneration. However, with these situations, it may be possible to reverse the color deficiency when the condition is treated.

There are several evaluation methods for the condition. The most widely used is the Ishihara color test, called after its designer. In this test a plate is shown with a circle of dots in differing colors and sizes. Within the circle one with proper color vision can see a numerical figure in a particular color. The patient's ability to see the number within the dots of contrasting hues indicates the level of red-green color vision.

Even though genetic color blindness can't be corrected, there are a few steps that can help to improve the situation. For some wearing colored contacts or glasses which minimize glare can help people to perceive the distinction between colors. Increasingly, new computer programs are on the market for standard computers and for smaller devices that can help users enhance color distinction depending upon their specific diagnosis. There are also interesting experiments underway in gene therapy to enhance the ability to distinguish colors.

How much color vision problems limit a person is dependent upon the type and severity of the deficiency. Some patients can adapt to their deficiency by learning substitute cues for determining a color scheme. For example, they can learn the order of traffic signals or compare objects with color paradigms like the blue sky or green grass.

If you suspect that you or your child might be color blind it's advised to schedule an appointment with an optometrist. The earlier the condition is diagnosed, the sooner you can help. Feel free to call our Raleigh, NC optometry practice for further details about color blindness.