Straight, No Chaser: Questions About Color Blindness

Have you ever found yourself at school, work or elsewhere and discovered that you were wearing different colored socks or pants that you’d thought? If so, you may be experiencing color blindness.


A person with color deficiency may not be able to see the number 5 among the dots in this picture.
What are the main symptoms?
Classic color blindness involves difficulty in seeing colors and the brightness of colors, coupled with an inability to differentiate between shades and other variations of similar colors. Usually the perception of red and green or blue and yellow are affected. There can be a lot of variation in symptoms, ranging from mild to complete and including greater or lesser difficulty in bright or dim light.


Why does it occur?
In the back of your eyes, you have two different types of cells affecting your ability to detect light. One of these is called cone cells; these detect color. Of these, there are three types: those that detect red, green and blue. Our brain perceives color based on degrees of input from these cells. Any absence or malfunction in these cells can produce color blindness. It stands to reason (and is true) that different degrees of color blindness could result from the extent of malfunction to these cells.
Who is at risk?

  • Most people with color blindness are born with it.
  • One of 10 males has some form of color blindness.
  • Women seldom suffer from color blindness, but those that do are likely to pass it to their sons.
  • Color blindness is more common among those of Northern European heritage.
  • Certain drugs, most notably plaquenil (a drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis) can cause color blindness.
  • Certain medical conditions, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, alcoholism, glaucoma, leukemia and sickle anemia increase the risk of acquiring color blindness.

Are there other symptoms?
Except in the most severe form, color blindness does not affect the sharpness of vision. In rare instances one may experience poor vision, light sensitivity, involuntary rapid eye movement and visualization of everything as shades of gray. These symptoms aren’t likely to occur suddenly, so you’d have ample opportunity to see an ophthalmologist (eye doctor) prior to this level of malfunction.


What can be done about it?
There is no cure for color blindness, although acquired forms are best addressed by treating the underlying source. You may be given special eyewear that improves color detection.
Feel free to ask any questions you may have on this topic.

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