Color blindness affects an individual’s ability to see and distinguish differences in color. It largely affects men (more on that below). Ophthalmologists determine that as much as 10% of the male population has diminished color vision, but women can have it as well (only about 1 in 200 women).
While there is no treatment (yet!), it is important that children are diagnosed early. There are tips for helping them decipher the colors of things so they learn more about the world around them. It’s equally important that their teachers, coaches, and healthcare providers know about it as it can change how they work with children and teens – and can shift certain expectations or practices in the classroom and on the field.
Color Blindness Is Largely Inherited
Most people who are color blind inherited the gene(s) from their parents. The gene for color blindness (also called color deficiency) is located on the X chromosome, and it is considered a “recessive gene.” This is why the condition is more common in men; women have two X chromosomes, so even if the gene mutation is present on one of the chromosomes, the dominant, healthy gene expression on the other X overrides it. Since males have one X and one Y chromosome, that single genetic mutation is expressed.
If you remember sitting in your junior high or high school science classes, you may recall learning about the retina’s rods and cone cells. Both are responsible for detecting light, but while rods are responsible for detecting distinct shifts in light levels (low to high), color cone cells distinguish between colors – specifically reds, greens, and blues.
There Are Variations In Color Blindness
How a person experiences color blindness varies depending on the severity of their gene mutation. Some people can see a bit more color than others, particularly with good lighting. This means they only have one of the cone cells missing. Others see virtually black-and-white because all three cone cells are missing.
Remember when you mixed colors in school? That will help you imagine how someone with color blindness is more likely to interpret colors.
- Red + Blue = Purple
- Yellow + Blue = Green
- Red + Yellow = Orange
Depending on which cone cells are missing, people with color deficiency wind up seeing lots of grayed colors or sort of a pea soup green – and they frequently confuse colors. In case, any child (especially boys) who struggles to learn colors should be examined immediately.
Your Child’s First Eye Appointment Is Critical
This is one of the reasons why a child’s first eye appointment is so important. Children are remarkable at adapting to vision issues, so those can remain unnoticed or unseen for months or even years. The problem is that children with undiagnosed vision problems, even something that doesn’t affect reading or math skills, can wind up having trouble at school because they aren’t able to interpret the world the same way their peers do, which leads to confusion, lower grades, self-consciousness, and even behavioral problems.
Read, How Often Should You Get an Eye Exam, to learn more about recommended vision screenings for children, teens, and adults.
Other causes of color blindness
While genetics is the leading cause of color blindness, other factors can also cause color deficiency. The most common of these are:
- Lazy eye (amblyopia)
- Nystagmus (when eyes move rapidly and uncontrollably)
- Poor vision (nearsighted, farsighted, astigmatism, etc.)
- Light sensitivity
- Eye trauma
- Medication side effects (hydroxychloroquine/Plaquenil used to treat rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most common)
- Certain vascular or metabolic conditions
Children and adults with both color blindness and vision problems are doubly compromised. So, while there is no treatment for color blindness as yet, there are things we can do to support vision in color blind individuals.
Who is at risk?
As we mentioned, men are far more likely than women to experience color deficiency, so boys are at risk. However, other factors can also put you at risk for struggling to differentiate between colors.
- Glaucoma. The vision impairment associated with glaucoma can also affect how the eyes see and interpret colors.
- Diabetes. Vision loss is one of the most common side effects of diabetes, and fading loss is an effect of that vision loss.
- Macular degeneration. This is another age-related vision condition that contributes to color fading or washout.
- Other health related-conditions. Other health conditions that can compromise vision and color perception include Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, chronic alcoholism, leukemia, and sickle cell disease are some examples.
Early diagnosis and treatment of any disease can prevent or reduce the chances of accompanying vision loss or color blindness. Healthy management of health conditions also supports eye health.
Treatment For Color Blindness Is In Motion
Unfortunately, there are no straightforward treatments for color blindness at this time. Ensuring you have adequate light is one of the best things you can do to help colors appear as clear and vibrant as possible. If health conditions or medications are at play, your healthcare practitioner can work with your optometrist or ophthalmologist to make any changes or adjustments possible that won’t compromise your health further.
Some people find help by wearing color filters in their lenses or contacts, but this usually only helps to enhance contrast and one’s perception of different colors rather than allowing them to see all of the colors clearly. Currently, researchers are running experiments and trials exploring whether gene therapies or gene replacement might work, but those types of treatments are still a future potential.
Perhaps the best thing you can do to support yourself and others with color blindness is to address the social-emotional components that may arise over time. Rather than hiding it, we recommend being open with peers, colleagues, bosses, etc, about the fact that you are color blind. This can help to eliminate any feelings of stigma.
Wondering If Your Child Is Color Blind?
Is your child struggling to tell the difference between colors? Schedule an appointment at Atlantic Eye Institute. A simple, routine eye exam is all it takes to provide invaluable answers and support.