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A Different Perspective: Understanding Color Blindness

Color blindness is a disorder impacting the ability to view colors under typical light or to discern colors as they are seen by typical people. Generally, the condition is inherited, but it can also be caused by old age or a number of eye diseases.

The perception of color depends on the cones found in the eye's macula. Humans are typically born with three types of pigmented cones, each of which perceive different wavelengths of color tone. When it comes to shades of color, the size of the wave is directly connected to the resulting color. Short waves produce blue tones, medium-length waves produce green tones and long waves produce red tones. Which pigmented cone is missing has an impact on the nature and severity of the color deficiency.

Being a gender-linked genetically recessive trait, red-green color blindness is more frequent in males than in women. Nevertheless, there are a number of females who do experience some degree of color blindness, particularly yellow-blue color blindness.

Some individuals develop color vision problems later in life resulting from another condition including medicinal side effects, aging and especially macular degeneration. Fortunately, if one of these situations were to result in color blindness, it may be possible to reverse the color deficiency when the condition is treated.

Eye doctors use a few exams for color blindness. The most widely used is the Ishihara color exam, named after its designer. In this test a patient views a plate with a group of dots in a circle in different colors and sizes. Within the circle appears a number in a particular color. The patient's capability to make out the digit inside the dots of contrasting colors indicates the level of red-green color vision.

Although inherited color blindness can't be treated, there are a few measures that can help to improve the situation. For some wearing colored lenses or anti-glare glasses can help people to perceive the distinction between colors. Increasingly, new computer applications are being developed for regular PCs and for smaller devices that can help users enhance color distinction depending upon their specific diagnosis. There are also exciting experiments underway in gene therapy to improve the ability to distinguish colors.

The extent to which color blindness limits a person depends on the kind and degree of the condition. Some patients can accommodate to their deficiency by familiarizing themselves with substitute cues for colored objects or signs. For instance, familiarizing oneself with the shapes of stop signs rather than recognizing red, or comparing items with color paradigms like the blue sky or green grass, can help.

If you suspect that you or a loved one might have a color vision deficiency it's recommended to see an eye doctor. The earlier you are aware of a problem, the easier it will be to live with. Contact our Long Beach, CA optometry practice for information about scheduling an exam.