When you hear that someone is color blind, you may assume that they cannot see any color at all, and they see the world only in shades of gray. Fortunately, that’s not usually the case. Since there is a lot of misinformation and assumptions about colorblindness, the oculoplastic surgeon team at Eyesthetica wants to clear up some of the confusion. In this post, we reveal what it really means to be color blind.
Understanding Color Vision Deficiency
Most people in the medical field refer to color blindness by its clinical term: color vision deficiency, or CVD. CVD causes difficulty perceiving or distinguishing between certain colors. People that are color blind are typically able to see certain colors, while other colors appear dull or faded. Some colors may also be easily confused with each other.
CVD is caused by abnormalities in the eye’s photoreceptor cells that respond to specific colors. Together, these photoreceptor cells are what enable a healthy eye to see the depth and range of colors. The colors that are hard for a color-blind person to perceive and distinguish depend on which photoreceptors are abnormal. Most commonly, CVD makes it hard to perceive red and green; a person with red-green color blindness probably has trouble distinguishing any color with red or green in it, including orange, purple, pink, and even gray. CVD that causes problems with blue and yellow is less common.
CVD is usually inherited, but it can also be acquired due to damage to the eye, cataracts, and systemic diseases like diabetes and multiple sclerosis. It affects approximately one out of every 12 men and one out of every 200 women.
Subtle Ways CVD Can Affect Daily Life
The inability to perceive or distinguish colors can affect daily life in different ways. One example is picking and preparing food — it may be impossible to distinguish between a ripe or unripe piece of fruit or a vegetable (e.g., bananas, tomatoes). A rare steak may appear the same color as a cooked steak. Condiments like barbecue sauce and ketchup may look the same.
Young children can struggle in school because of learning materials that depend on accurate color perception. Adults in certain occupations, like graphic design or electrical wiring, may not be able to perform certain job duties that rely on color perception. Parents may not notice their child getting sunburnt because of the color of their skin, or be able to use electronic devices with colored LED displays. Red, green, and orange traffic lights may look the same.
Luckily, once CVD is detected and diagnosed by an eye care professional, there are ways to compensate. Special contact or eyeglass lenses can enhance color perception. Organizing or labeling systems can prevent confusion. Nowadays, smartphones even offer apps to aid in color detection.