Color Blind Explained: Causes, Symptoms, & How To Adapt
Those who are color blind can still usually see many colors. When a person is color blind, it is simply because the cones in your retina for sensing colors are either deficient or non-existent.
If you were to try to list and rank the worst possible eye problems humans can have, complete loss of vision will probably be placed at the top of your list. Color blind? Not so much.
In fact, being color blind isn’t so bad all at and there are many different forms of color blindness. For starters, those who are color blind can still usually see many colors, so they are not truly color blind and moreso color deficient. When a person is color deficient, it is simply because the cones in their retina for sensing colors are either deficient or non-existent.
What is Color Blindness?
Simply put, someone who is color deficient doesn’t perceive the colors around them in the same manner that people with normal vision do. They may see many of the same colors that we do but in different levels of intensity. Specifically, someone who is color blind may simply not be able to see red colors that well, and instead may perceive them more like purple. Other common colors that color blind individuals can have a difficult time with are green and blue. In rarer cases, certain color blind people can only see the world in shades of black and white.
Not the Same as Blindness
If you are blind, you simply cannot use your eyes to see the world around you. When you are color blind, you can still view the world around you. The main difference here is that those who are color blind can usually still see many different colors, but that the colors they view are not quite the same as those with normal vision. This can make it different for color blind individuals to enjoy and discuss the world around them in the same manner as those who aren’t color blind. Most color blind individuals are completely functional members of society, but simply see things a little differently.
Doesn’t Necessarily Mean that You See in Black & White
When we use the term “color blind” it can be really easy for people to misinterpret exactly what this means. If you interpret the word as many people do, you might immediately think that those who are color blind are not able to view colors except for ones such as black, white, and grey. Although this is possible, it is also one of the rarer types of color blindness. Most people who are color blind simply suffer from some form of color deficiency. Those who can only see in black and white are a lot rarer to find than ones who only have a color deficiency of some sort.
Males Are More Likely to Be Color blind
Time for a simple genetics lesson. In case you didn’t know, men are much more likely to be color blind than females. Since this is a condition which is typically developed genetically, one might think that it is just as likely to affect both males and females. However, since the gene for color blindness is located on the X chromosome, males only need to have this gene appear on one of their chromosomes to be deficient. After all, they have one X and one Y chromosome. This is what makes them a male. For a woman to develop colorblindness genetically, the gene would need to be present on both of her X chromosomes. When we factor in basic mathematics and the odds of developing color blindness, then, it is no wonder why men are more likely to be color blind.
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What Causes Color Deficiency?
It is safe to assume that most people don’t want to become color blind. The good news is that those who currently have great vision will be very unlikely to develop color blindness. This isn’t a universal rule, though. As we will explore below, there are many different potential causes for color blindness. Typically, those who are color blind were given this condition genetically, and there isn’t much they can do about it. However, there are also various instances where one can develop color blindness as an adult. Let’s go ahead and look at what causes color blindness.
Normally Inherited Genetically
Typically, those who are color blind were given this condition by their parents. Don’t call up your parents and get mad, though. It was something which was in their genetics and which they had no control over. The colorblindness gene appears on the X chromosome and needs to be present on both X chromosomes if you are a female in order to be color blind. It is a lot easier for men to inherit the color blind gene since they only have one X chromosome which needs to come along with the colorblind gene. The vast majority of people who are color blind develop the condition from an unlucky set of genes.
Can Be Caused by Severe Illnesses
If you have a severe illness of some sort, there is a risk of developing color blindness as a result of your condition. Specifically, this includes diseases like glaucoma, leukemia, Alzheimer’s, macular degeneration, multiple sclerosis, and much more. Typically, those with a severe illness will be aware of the many risks associated. However, if you have a disease like this, or any sort of serious illness, check with your doctor to see if there is any risk of developing acquired color blindness. It is also worth mentioning that a severe illness like one of these doesn’t necessarily mean that you have any chance of becoming color blind.
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Certain Medications can Cause Color Blindness
In a perfect world, each of the prescription medicines and over-the-counter drugs that we have will only serve to help you, without ever having any sort of chance of negative side effects. In reality, though, the world of medicine isn’t perfect. Sometimes, certain medications can actually make things worse. In the case of color blindness, there have been many instances where medications caused color blindness symptoms. This can be the result of high blood pressure medications, medication for nervous disorders, barbiturates, and even antibiotics. This is one of the many reasons to be informed about your medication and all of its potential side effects before taking it.
When we are talking about harmful chemicals, we are referencing chemicals which you might typically come across in an industrial environment. This includes chemicals like carbon disulfide, carbon monoxide, and chemicals which include lead. Clearly, a chemical like carbon monoxide is something which you can come across naturally when you live in a city with lots of cars too. Although you’re a lot less likely to develop color blindness symptoms from chemicals like this, it has happened. Do your best to avoid chemicals like these if you want to do everything possible to avoid developing color blindness symptoms.
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Can Happen Due to Natural Aging
As our bodies age, it is natural for certain organs and senses to decline in their functionality and overall effectiveness. The same is true when it comes to our eyes. Specifically, those who are over 65 years old are candidates for developing a color deficiency. This is usually because the color-sensing cones in your retina will sometimes start to either go away or decline in their effectiveness. This type of color blindness can be very difficult to see coming. Usually, it is not until the person suffers from a color deficiency that they will go to the doctor and receive a diagnosis.
What Do Colorblind People See?
From the outside looking in, many people are fascinated with this condition due to curiosity and simply wondering how a color blind individual sees the world around them. Normally, people who are color blind are normally still able to see the world around them in color. However, there are normally a set of things that they will see differently than somebody with normal vision would. In most cases, a person who is color blind will only have trouble with one or two colors. The rest of the world still appears just about the same to them as it does to somebody who isn’t color blind.
The Differences Are Typically Minuscule
Those who have normal vision will be able to sense many different colors and the different shades of those colors. However, somebody who is color blind might have trouble with one or two common colors. They might look at a color like red and see the color green. Additionally, the colors that they do see might not be as bright and vivid as somebody with healthy vision sees them. In most cases, though, the differences between the vision of a color blind individual and an average person are not too much different. These small differences can create a whole lot of problems for the color blind person, though.
Details and Image Quality Are Normally Fine
When it comes to picking apart the details and overall sharpness, vision of those who are color blind is not normally as bad as you might imagine. Typically, those who are color blind can still see the details of the world around them in a very similar manner. For example, a car going down the street will still be clearly seen and interpreted as a car by a color blind individual. There aren’t drastic differences in image quality for those who are color blind compared to those who aren’t. However, a color blind individual may not be able to see the proper color on the car if it is one of the colors that they have problems with.
Sensing Shades of Certain Colors is the Most Common Problem
The vast majority of people who are color blind are still able to see the world around them very similarly to those who aren’t color blind. The most common color blindness symptoms that we notice are the inability to sense different shades of a particular color or a handful of colors. Since there are various types of color blindness, there is not a general set of colors that all color blind individuals have problems with. Typically, a common color deficiency would be for colors like blue, green, red, and yellow. In rare cases, a person who is color blind may only be able to see in black, white, and grey.
Color Blindness Symptoms: Symptoms for Both Mild and Severe Cases
Usually, those who are color blind will constantly have their friends and acquaintances tell them that they are not seeing the same colors. They will normally still be able to see colors and have clear vision. In some cases, those who are color blind may not even be aware that they suffer from this condition. If the condition is genetically inherited, a child can sometimes fail to be properly diagnosed until later on in life. Some common signs of color blindness include:
- Colors lose their brightness
- Shades of certain colors appear the same
- Problems with the colors red, green, blue and/or yellow
These are symptoms that are common for those who have one of the more common types of color blindness. However, in rarer cases, certain individuals suffer color blindness symptoms which are vastly different than what you see above. Those who cannot see colors at all have a much different experience and set of color blindness symptoms. Here are the common symptoms we see in those who suffer from complete color blindness (or monochromacy):
- Inability to distinguish all colors
- Reduced visual perception and quality
- Sensitivity to light
- Random involuntary eye movements
As we can see, those who have complete color blindness essentially suffer from a completely different condition than color blind individuals who simply have a color deficiency of some sort. The color blind symptoms for those who have complete color blindness usually have a much greater impact on their personal lives and ability to relate to other people since they perceive the world in a much different manner. Jobs which require employees to be able to work with colors are naturally a lot more difficult for a person who has monochromacy.
Types of Color Blindness
Although we use the term “color blind” to describe the vision impairment of all of those who have a color deficiency of some sort, or those who can’t see colors, there are many different types of color blindness that you can potentially suffer from. In order to help you understand the complexity of this condition, and the many types of color blindness that one can have, let’s go ahead and break down each of the common types of color blindness and what they entail.
Red-Green Color Blindness
Red-green color blindness is the most common type of color blindness among those who develop it genetically. It is caused by ineffective or nonexistent red or green cone photopigments. As a result, those who have red-green color blindness are not able to see the colors red and green in the same manner as those with normal vision. Here are the different forms of red-green color blindness:
Protanopia is a slightly more advanced case of red-green color blindness. People with protanopia don’t have any working red cones. As a result, they are not able to see red, or anything closely resembling it. Colors such as orange and green will appear to be a shade of yellow. The brightness of the colors is noticeably different. When the color red is seen, one with protanopia will see the color black instead.
This is a type of red-green color blindness where the patient has red cones cells which are existent but not working properly. Colors which are red, or similar to red, will appear to be a shade of green. The red colors will also not appear to be very bright. This is a mild case of red green color blindness. Typically, a protanomaly patient can carry on their daily life normally.
This is a type of red-green color blindness which is linked to the green cone cells in your retina. If you have deuteranopia, you do not have any working green cone cells. As a result, people with this type of red-green color blindness will not be able to see green in the same manner as those with normal vision. Green will normally be interpreted by someone with deuteranopia as beige. They are normally also not able to see reds that well, instead seeing a shade of yellow.
This type of red-green color blindness is very similar to protanomaly. However, the main difference here is that it is the green cones which are not functioning properly. This is another form of mild color blindness. It is also the most common type of red-green color blindness. Colors like green will appear to be a shade of yellow. They may also have difficulty properly seeing colors like yellow, violet, and blue.
Blue-Yellow Color Blindness
Blue-yellow color blindness is less common than red-green color blindness. Just like red-green color blindness, though, it is caused by non-existent or dysfunctional color-sensing cones in your retina. There are two types of blue-yellow color blindness. Similarly to what we see in the types of red-green color blindness, the different types of blue-yellow color blindness are easily determined by seeing what cone cells are present, and whether or not they are working properly.
Those who have tritanomaly have blue cones in their retina which are not working properly. This means that they are not able to view blue normally, and might instead see a shade of green. If you have tritanomaly, you have a pretty rare case of color blindness. Unlike most other types of color blindness, tritanomaly affects males and females at a relatively equal rate.
Much like tritanomaly, tritanopia is a condition which results from a lack of properly working blue cones. In this case, there aren’t any blue cone cells, making it slightly more severe. It is equally diagnosed in both men and women. Those who have tritanopia view blue as a shade of green. Yellow is another color which is seen differently for those with tritanopia.
Complete Color Blindness (Monochromacy)
The rarest types of color blindness are the ones where the patient isn’t able to experience color at all. For this reason, this is also the most severe type of color blindness. Along with the ability to not experience colors, those with monochromacy can also suffer from negative symptoms such as reduced visual acuity, light sensitivity, involuntary eye movements, and more.
This form of monochromacy happens when two of your cone cells fail to work properly. Since there are three types of cone cells, your brain needs to compare the data from each of the cones in order to project a color image properly. However, if there is only one type of cone cells, it is impossible for your brain to sense the difference between colors.
This is the most severe form of colorblindness that one can have, and is also one of the rarest. People with rod monochromacy are given this condition genetically. Since someone who has this form of color blindness doesn’t have any cone cells which are functioning, they cannot see colors. Instead, people with rod monochromacy will see the world in different shades of black, grey, and white.
Diagnosing Color Blindness: Simple Color Deficiency Tests to Try
Until you are properly diagnosed with a particular type of color blindness, it can be unsettling to realize that you see things differently than other people. It is common for color blind individuals to be self-conscious and even feel a little isolated until they finally realize what is going on. Once a proper diagnosis is received, color blind individuals may regain confidence with the knowledge that they are not alone. It is actually very easy to diagnose whether or not you are colorblind and the severity of your case with some simple scientific tests. Here are some of the common tests that are used to diagnose somebody with color blindness.
Cambridge Color Test
The Cambridge Color Test is done using a computer monitor. During the test, the patient is presented with pictures that contain hundreds of circles. The circles are purposefully colored to make the image of the letter C. However, the colors of the circles which make up the letter C are strategically changed to determine the test taker’s ability to see different colors. They are also presented with various pictures that don’t contain the letter C so that one would not be able to guess their way successfully through the test. This is one of the newer and popular color deficiency tests since it is very easily done, and can help diagnose various types of color blindness.
Ishihara Color Test
This is a common color test which can be used to diagnose whether or not you are red-green color blind. By using hundreds of small colored circles, images are formed which can be easily used to test the patient’s ability to see. Those who have normal vision will be able to see the image that is formed among the chaos of colored circles. However, those who are red green colorblind will simply see a handful of colored dots, or have difficulty making out the image. This test is a great way to quickly see whether or not you are red green colorblind and can even be done without professional assistance with the proper tools.
Farnsworth Lantern Test
Dean Farnsworth was a commander of the US Navy who wanted to have a better system for screening recruits who are color blind from those who aren’t. One of the tests developed by Farnsworth used vertically-positioned lights strategically paired with a matching light of a similar (or exact same) shade. The test subjects received a short time to match the pairs of lights which consisted of colors such as red, green, and yellow. The person administering the test, then, would be easily able to notice that the patient has difficulty with a particular color or set of colors.
How to Adapt and Live while Color Blind
Color blindness is one of the various conditions that we have not yet developed a cure for. However, just because there is no permanent fix doesn’t mean that you can’t fight the negative aspects which can come along with your color blindness symptoms. If you have red-green color blindness, for example, there are special lenses which you can use to reverse your color deficiency. There are also various apps and technical features which can be used on computers and mobile phones to allow you to sense colors properly. Although there are many different tools which can assist you with color blindness, the best thing that you can do is understand your condition, and be ready to ask for help when you need it.
Color Blind Explained: Major Points & Summary
The vast majority of those who are color blind received the condition genetically from one or both of their parents. It is also much more common in men than it is for women. Most people who are color blind simply have problems with a handful of colors and are still able to carry on with normal lives. It is rare that somebody isn’t able to see color altogether.