Color blindness is a vision problem that makes it difficult for a person to distinguish between certain colors. The condition typically affects how a person sees red, blue, or green, or a combination of these three colors. The inability to see certain colors makes it difficult to function in some situations and there are certain things for which a person will not qualify if he or she is color blind. Despite these challenges, it is possible to lead a relatively normal life with a little bit of adjustment.

Causes of Color Blindness

Color blindness is usually a genetic condition. It affects one in 10 men, but rarely affects women. In addition to inheriting the problem from a parent, it can also be caused by injury or other eye disorders, such as cataracts, glaucoma, or diabetic retinopathy, or develop as a person ages. Some people also experience color blindness as a side effect to certain medications, the most common of which is hydroxychloroquine.

When a person inherits color blindness, he or she is missing one of the three cone cells that are supposed to be present in the eye. These cone cells are responsible for seeing green, red, or blue light. When one of these cells is missing, it creates an inability to see the corresponding shade of light or it causes a person to see a different color or altered shade of that color when viewing the affected color. For instance, a person with one type of color blindness might have difficulty telling the difference between red and green. Another might struggle with blues and yellows, though blue-yellow color blindness is usually accompanied by red-green color blindness, making most colors a problem.

Symptoms of Color Blindness

As expected, the symptoms of color blindness include not seeing colors as they should appear. Different people experience color blindness in different ways. For instance, some may not be able to distinguish some colors from others, while other people might see only a limited number of shades of a certain color.

Rarely is a person blind to all colors, though it does occur. This condition is called achromatopsia and it causes all colors to appear as various shades of gray. It is often associated with other vision problems, including severe light sensitivity, lazy eye, nystagmus, and poor vision.

Treating Color Blindness

There is no cure for inherited color blindness, but there are tools to ease the challenges it causes. Colored contact lenses help some people distinguish between colors, but they do not perfect color vision. Glasses can help prevent glare, making it easier to distinguish between colors. People living with color blindness have also learned tricks to help them tell one color from another, such as focusing on brightness.

When color blindness is caused by a medical condition, such as cataracts or glaucoma, treating the disease or disorder often alleviates the problem with color.

Color blind people may not be able to join the military, or work in law enforcement or fire fighting careers. A 2001 article in the New York Times told the story of an employee of Xerox using special lenses to correct his color blindness, which was discovered after 20 years on the job. He failed a vision test given to employees of the company when printers transitioned from black and white only to color. Luckily, his eye doctor was able to help him correct the problem before it had an effect on his work.

Color blindness is a vision challenge and it can affect your daily life and life-long goals, but it does not have to hold you back. Speak with your eye doctor about vision tests to determine if you are color blind and to find a solution for easing the symptoms.