Color blindness is an uncommon visual issue that is most often linked to a genetic cause. It affects 1 in 12 men.
The most common form of color blindness is red/green blindness, with blue/yellow being the second most common. Achromatopsia, or total color blindness, is extremely rare.
Most people who are color blind have this condition for their whole lives and rarely experience other problems. Severe color blindness may have some other impact on your vision.
There might be an underlying disease or trauma that caused color blindness, so if you develop this condition, make an appointment with your ophthalmologist immediately.
Treating color blindness typically involves adjusting to the condition and finding ways to manage daily life. Overall, people who are color blind live normal lives.
Color Blindness or Deficiency: An Uncommon Visual Concern
Color blindness is a term covering several problems seeing colors. These conditions are sometimes called color deficiency.
The most common forms of color blindness occur when you cannot distinguish between two specific colors, typically red and green, but sometimes blue and yellow or different shades of blue. Some people are entirely color blind and cannot see any color.
Typically, color blindness is hereditary. If someone in your family is color blind, you are more likely to be color blind. With a genetic component, most people who are color blind have this condition for their entire lives.
Sometimes, you can develop color blindness after a brain or eye injury. If you have color blindness, it could get worse over the course of your life. Men are more likely to be color blind than women, with 1 in 12 men having at least red/green color blindness.
Since color blindness is predominantly genetic, there is no cure for it. There are many coping strategies for those who live with color blindness. Most people who are color blind live normal lives.
Types of Color Blindness & Associated Issues
Color blindness occurs when certain light-sensitive nerve cells in your eye do not respond to light triggers as normal, so the brain does not interpret these signals as a specific color.
There are two basic types of cells in your retina that detect light: rods and cones. Cones are the cells that comprehend color. Rods interpret light and dark, and they tend to work better in low light or at night.
There are a few types of color blindness.
- Red/green: When one pigment is missing from your cones, you have trouble telling the difference between red and green. This is the most common type of color blindness.There are sub-types of red/green color blindness, including:
Deuteranomaly, which makes green look more red.
Protanomaly, which makes red look duller and more green.
Protanopia and deuteranopia, in which you cannot tell the difference between red and green at all.
- Blue/yellow: This is a rarer form of color blindness. As with red/green, it involves one missing pigment. People who struggle with yellow and blue also often have red/green color blindness.There are two sub-types of blue/yellow color blindness, including:
Tritanomaly, which makes it hard to tell the difference between yellow and red, and between blue and green.
Tritanopia, which is when you cannot tell the difference between blue and green, between purple and red, and between yellow and pink. Reds look duller too.
- Achromatopsia: This is total color blindness which is very rare. People with achromatopsia can only see shades of gray.
Sometimes, your color blindness can be so mild, you do not notice it. Many people with mild red/green color blindness do not learn they have this condition until they are specifically tested for it.
Some people have color blindness that is severe enough that they need help navigating the world. They cannot tell the differences in something unless the hues are very different.
If you have very serious color blindness, you may also have symptoms like:
- Nystagmus, or quick side-to-side motions of your eyes due to problems processing images.
- Photosensitivity, or discomfort or pain from bright lights.
- Amblyopia or “lazy eye.”
- Poor visual acuity.
Causes of Color Blindness
It is rare for color blindness to develop. Most people with this condition have it from birth, even if it progresses throughout their lives.
Damage to the retina or the brain can cause color blindness. Some people who take a prescription medication called hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) to treat rheumatoid arthritis may develop color blindness as well.
Other potential causes of color blindness include:
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
- Multiple sclerosis.
- Alzheimer’s disease.
- Some prescription medicines.
- Some types of substance abuse.
If you suddenly develop color blindness, set up an immediate appointment with an ophthalmologist. You should contact your physician as well. They will examine you for physical issues that are not directly related to your eyes.
Testing & Treating Color Blindness
Color testing is a common part of most eye exams. If your vision care provider does not offer this as part of the exam, you can request it.
Overall, there is no cure for color blindness, but you can find ways to adjust.
Sometimes, you can use special glasses or contact lenses to distinguish more between colors like red and green. These do not “change” your eyes or improve your vision so you can truly see these colors, but they do change the hues on some colors so you can understand that they are different colors.
If you have color blindness from another cause, like a prescription medication, work with your doctor to manage the condition. You may not be able to recover all of your vision, but in some cases, recovery is possible.
- Color Blindness. (May 2019). MedlinePlus.
- Types of Color Blindness. (June 2019). National Eye Institute (NEI).
- Color Blindness. (July 2019). National Eye Institute (NEI).
- What Are the Symptoms and Causes of Color Blindness? (September 2019). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).