Color Blindness, or as we call it… “Honey, does this shirt match my pants?”
Summer is wrapping up here in the United States and this is the time of year we savor the scenery – a bright blue sky whiskered with milk-white clouds; the velvety red bloom of a rose, green lawns and trees.
Or perhaps we are on vacation, gazing upon some faraway landscape: the smoke-blue mountains of the Himalayas, shrouded in mist; the pink sand beaches and turquoise waters of the Caribbean, a brilliant orange, yellow and green Toucan flying through the lush South American rainforest.
But what do you see if you’re color blind? Does that mean your world, like an old movie, is black-and-white?
Green Means Go
Don’t let the name fool you. Most people who are color blind can still see colors – some colors, that is. It’s just that they can’t tell the difference between certain colors, so that, for instance, at a stoplight they may have to rely on positioning to distinguish red from green.
There are four different types of red-green color blindness. They range from a total inability to see the difference in the green-yellow-red section of the spectrum (rare) to the most common form of color blindness: a reduction in sensitivity to the green area of the spectrum.
The latter occurs in about six percent of the male population (who, by the way, make up the majority of the color blind, thus giving rise to the famous comment, “You’re not going to wear THAT, are you?”).
Although rare, achromatopsia, which is a complete inability to distinguish any colors at all, can also occur. Congenital achromatopsia is prevalent on the Micronesian islands of Pingelap and Pohnpei. Neurologist Oliver Sacks journeyed there for his book The Island of the Colorblind, in which he describes how his patients navigate their colorless world through a reliance on pattern, light and shadow.
It’s in the Genes
Why do the people of Pingelap and Pohnpei suffer from color blindness? And why does color blindness occur mainly in males?
The answer is that color blindness is almost always an inherited trait.
We all have two kinds of photoreceptive cells in our retinas: rods and cones. Normally, there are three kinds of cones, each containing a different pigment. One pigment is sensitive to short wavelengths, one to medium wavelengths, and the third to long wavelengths (corresponding to the blue-violet, green-yellow, and greenish-yellow regions of the spectrum, respectively). We recognize different colors when the different types of cone are stimulated to different extents.
The different kinds of color blindness result from one or more of the different cone systems either not functioning at all, or functioning in an unusual way. Red-green color deficiencies are carried on the X-chromosome (males are affected, females are carriers). According to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, “More than 95% of all variations in human color vision involve the red and green receptors in men’s eyes.”
It is very rare for anyone to be “blind” to the blue end of the spectrum. Isolated communities with a restricted gene pool sometimes produce high proportions of color blindness, including the less usual types, which explains the prevalence of achromatopsia in the islanders studied by Dr. Sacks.
Color Blindness Tips
Being color blind is not a dangerous condition for most people. It can be frustrating and lead to problems with diets. After all with the most common form of color blindness, broccoli would appear as a red vegetable and may not be very appetizing. This would be true with many of the foods that we eat. In some cases this can be overcome by knowing the shape of the vegetables and what their true colors really are. This problem can make many of the foods we take for granted appear very unappetizing.
If you suspect you are, we recommend visiting you local eye doctor to ensure in fact you are color blind and which type you are. You may want to talk to your eye doctor and see if there is anything they can recommend that will help you to distinguish between colors more easily. Some people have had success using different colored lenses in their glasses.
Next, it’s about adapting. In your daily routine, write down everything you do that being color blind affects. This could be dressing yourself, driving, or even interior decorating. Working outside doing things like choosing flowers to plant, or what colors to paint your home, are some other areas where being color blind could have a bearing.
Then every time you perform a task, ask someone you trust and write down the changes you made. Then just adjust. It will become second nature over time and you will be able to to preform the tasks without even thinking about getting a second opinion.
Another option may be going with what looks good to you, even though the colors may not look that great to others. Some people deal with this problem by purchasing clothing that is all one basic color. This allows them to be sure that no matter what they choose at least their clothing will look good together.
Whether you choose to ask the opinion of a friend or simply go with what looks good to you personally, is a choice that only you can make.
We at Rebuild Your Vision wish you a happy, healthy rest of your summer, full of colorful scenery – and matching clothes.