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Color Blindness: An In-depth Look

The inability to perceive colors or color blindness is commonly a hereditary disability that prohibits someone's ability to differentiate between color tones. Color blindness is a result of a dysfunction of the cones in the macular area. Usually, it disrupts an individual's ability to differentiate shades of red or green, but it can adversely affect the ability to see additional colors as well.

Color perception is dependent upon the cones located within the retina of the eye. Humans are usually born with three types of cones, each perceiving various wavelengths of color. This is similar to the wavelengths of sound. With colors, the size of the wave is directly linked to the perceived color tone. Long waves are seen as red tones, moderately-sized waves produce greens and shorter waves are perceived as blue tones. The pigmented cone that is missing determines the spectrum and seriousness of the color blindness.

Because it is a gender-linked recessive trait, many more men are red-green color blind than women. Still, there are a small number of women who do suffer varying degrees of color vision deficiency, particularly blue-yellow color blindness.

Color vision problems are not a debilitating disability, but they can harm learning and development and work performance. Not having the ability to see colors as fellow students do could impact a student's self-esteem. For those of working age, color blindness could be a disadvantage when running against normal-sighted peers trying to advance in certain fields.

There are several tests for color blindness. The most widely used is the Ishihara color test, called after its designer. In this test, a plate is shown with a circle of dots in various colors and sizes. Inside the circle one with proper color vision can see a numerical figure in a particular color. The individual's ability to see the digit inside the dots of clashing shades indicates the level of red-green color blindness.

While hereditary color blindness can't be treated, there are some options that can assist to make up for it. Some evidence shows that using colored lenses or glasses which minimize glare can help to see the differences between colors. More and more, computer applications are becoming available for standard personal computers and for mobile machines that can help users enhance color distinction depending upon their particular condition. There is also exciting research underway in gene therapy to enhance the ability to distinguish colors.

The extent to which color blindness limits a person depends on the type and degree of the condition. Some individuals can accommodate to their condition by familiarizing themselves with alternative clues for determining a color scheme. For example, many people can learn the order of traffic signals or contrast objects with color paradigms like the blue sky or green plants.

If you suspect that you or your child might have a color vision deficiency it's important to see an optometrist. The earlier you are aware of a problem, the easier it will be to manage. Contact our North Reading, MA optometrists for information about scheduling an exam.


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