Color Blindness

By:    Published: March 22, 2012

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Many people in the world claim to be color blind, but in reality, very few people are actually color blind. However people who have a difficult time distinguishing color do struggle with some daily tasks, such as choosing a wardrobe or in choosing a career path, and while it may not seem like something that is serious, in actuality it can be.

What Is It?

Color blindness is the colloquial term used to describe difficulties in distinguishing colors. Many people, mostly men, have this problem. In fact, because color blindness as most people know it is an X-gene recessive condition, it affects men far more often than women. About 1 in 10 men have some type of color blindness, but only about .5 percent of women are color blind.

The more accurate term to describe the problem would be color vision deficient. Very few people in the world are actually color blind in the literal sense, meaning that they have the inability to see any colors at all.

Causes And Complications

Color blindness in the colloquial sense is caused by a problem with the color-sensing granules in some nerve cells of the eye called pigments. Called cones, these cells are found in the retina of the eye, which is the membrane in the back of the eye that is sensitive to light.

Simply put, if one pigment is missing then a person may have a problem seeing red and green, which is by far the most common type of color perception deficiency. If another pigment is missing then a person will have problems seeing blue and yellow shades. In the case of those with a blue-yellow color deficiency, they typically also have problems seeing red and green.

Color blindness in the literal sense is quite rare, but it does occur. It is called achromatopsia and a person with this condition cannot see any colors at all, instead they see the world in various shades of gray. Achromatopsia is usually associated with other eye problems such as nystagmus (small jerky movements of the eye), a lazy eye, extremely poor vision or extreme light sensitivity.

Problems with color perception are genetic, specifically they are X-gene recessive. Meaning that they occur in males, and most often they are passed from the father to the child. While it is possible for a female to be born with an X-gene recessive condition it is extremely rare because both the mother and father would have to have the condition.

There is a drug that can cause color blindness. It's called hydroxychloroquine and it is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

The ability to perceive colors accurately is essential in many daily tasks, such as driving a car. For safety it's essential that the driver be able to tell what color the light is. Certain occupations also require the ability to perceive colors accurately, such as an electrician. Other occupations include water and rail navigation, jobs that deal with explosives and many military occupations. Because normal color perception is vital to these jobs, there are laws that preclude those with color vision problems from holding them.

Symptoms

The symptoms of color vision defects can vary from person to person but typically symptoms include;

  • Problems seeing colors
  • Problems with the brightness of colors
  • Unable to tell the difference between similar colors or shades of the same color
  • In more severe cases rapid eye movements from side-to-side (nystagmus) may also occur

Symptoms often start out very mild, and in the early stages a person may not realize there is a problem. Often parents notice that something is wrong when their children are trying to learn their colors when they are pre-school aged.

Treatment

There are few treatment options available for those who suffer from color blindness. Special aides exist that can help people with color blindness be able to see some of the colors that they have difficulty distinguishing. This includes special contact lenses or glasses, but these don't provide normal color vision and so they should be used with caution.

Currently no permanent cure exists for most color blindness or color vision abnormality. If the cause of the color blindness is genetic, and most is, there is nothing that can be done to correct the problem. However if the problem is acquired, then isolating the cause and treating it may offer a solution to the color blindness.

Color blind people shouldn't worry about passing the recessive gene on to their children. If a father is color blind, but a mother isn't, the chances are quite low that the baby will be born color blind. However, if the mother or both parents are color blind, the chances are much higher.

Color blindness can cause problems in everyday life, but it certainly isn't the end of the world. For most people who are color blind, their color blindness is not a debilitating condition. They simply learn to adapt and go one to live perfectly normal lives.

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