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A Differently Colored Life: A Look at Color Blindness

Color blindness is typically a hereditary disability which impairs one's ability to distinguish between shades of color. Color blindness is a result of a deficiency in the cones in the macular area, commonly diminishing a viewer's ability to distinguish between shades of red or green, but possibly affecting the perception of other hues too.

Color perception depends on the cones located within the retina of the eye. People are usually born with three types of cones, each of which perceives different wavelengths of color tone. The length of the wave is directly associated with the resulting color. Short waves are perceived as blue tones, middle-sized waves produce greens and long waves produce red tones. The type of cone that is affected determines the spectrum and seriousness of the color blindness.

Being a gender-linked genetically recessive trait, green-red color blindness is more common in men than in women. Still, there are a number of females who do suffer some degree of color vision deficiency, particularly yellow-blue deficiencies.

Rarely, there are cases of people who develop color blindness later on as a result of another condition such as macular degeneration, cataracts and medicinal side effects. Fortunately, if one of these situations were to result in color blindness, it might be possible to reverse the color deficiency when the condition is treated.

There are a number of evaluation methods to diagnose the condition. The most common is the Ishihara color test, called after its inventor. For this test a plate is shown with a circle of dots in different sizes and colors. Within the circle appears a numerical figure in a particular color. The individual's ability to make out the digit within the dots of clashing tones indicates the level of red-green color vision.

Although genetic color blindness can't be treated, there are a few options that might improve the situation. Some people find that using tinted lenses or glasses which minimize glare can help them perceive the distinction between colors. More and more, computer programs are on the market for common personal computers and for mobile machines that can help users distinguish color better depending on their particular condition. There are also promising experiments underway in gene therapy to enhance color vision.

How much color vision problems limit an individual depends on the type and degree of the deficiency. Some individuals can adapt to their deficiency by learning alternate clues for determining a color scheme. For instance, some might familiarize themselves with the shape of traffic signs in place of recognizing red, or compare objects with reference objects like the blue sky or green grass.

If you suspect that you or a family member might be color blind it's advised to get tested by an optometrist. The earlier the condition is diagnosed, the sooner you can help. Contact our Philadelphia, PA optometrists for additional details about color blindness.