Imagine a world where colors can’t be distinguished.
You can see dark and light colors, but you aren’t able to tell reds from greens, or yellows from blues.
Color blindness, the inability or decreased ability to see color or distinguish the differences in color, is just that. Color blindness is fairly common, but more common among males, says JulieAnn Wick, OD, an optometrist with Trinity Regional Eyecare-Western Dakota, in Williston. Wick says that about eight percent of males are color blind and only a small percentage – less than one percent – of females are color blind.
Genetics play a role in color blindness, with the genes coming from the mother. The 23rd chromosome – which also determines gender – is made up of two parts: either two X-chromosomes (female) or an X- and Y- chromosome (male).
“The faulty gene for color blindness is found on the X chromosome,” Wick says. “So, for a male to be color blind, the faulty color blindness gene only has to appear on his X-chromosome. For a female to be color blind, it must be present on both of her X-chromosomes.”
Color blindness is diagnosed with the Ishihara test, a color perception test which consists of a number of colored plates, each containing a circle of dots of random color and size. Within the pattern are dots which form a number or shape clearly visible to those with normal color vision, and invisible or difficult to see to those with a red-green color vision defect.
If a woman has only one color blind gene, she is known as a ‘carrier,’ but she won’t be color blind. When she has a child, she will give one of her X-chromosomes to the child. If she gives the X-chromosome with the faulty gene to her son, he will be color blind, but if he receives the good chromosome, he won’t be color blind, Wick explains.
People who are color blind have troubles with many colors, Wick explains. She notes that red and green are the most common colors that are hard to distinguish with color blindness.
“Usually, people who are color blind have trouble seeing between reds and greens and perceive them as a brown-ish color or a yellow-ish color,” Wick says. “Blues and yellows can be affected, but it’s more rare.”
The eye has three retinal cones, each responds to signals of different wavelengths. The difference in these signals received from the three cone types allows the brain to perceive a continuous range of colors, such as red, blue and green. Color blindness takes place when these cones overlap too much.
“If you’re looking at something that is red, a person will have a difficult time distinguishing color if there is too much overlap,” Wick says, noting that about 80 percent of people with color blindness have this overlap.
For those 80 percent, there is now a tool available to help restore their color vision: and it’s as simple as putting on a pair of glasses – because they are.
These glasses, called EnChroma glasses, act as a filter. “They cut out certain areas of the spectrum of light that we see,” Wick says. “It cuts out certain colors, therefore it creates a separation between those cones. That separation is what provides better color vision.”
While the glasses are not a cure, Wicks says that they are more of a tool to help differentiate colors and lessen the color blindness. However, studies are being done to see if it can help slow down the progression of color blindness in children or help re-train adults to see color.
“The glasses work like a pair of glasses for a person with vision impairment – you put them on and see better,” Wicks says. “You take them off and vision issues are still there.”
While Wick isn’t color blind, she has a friend who is and she ordered a pair of the EnChroma glasses for him. “He would typically see browns, grays, blacks, whites and some blues. He tried them on and could immediately see the color pink on a blanket,” she says. “We went into a store –you can imagine the different color packaging in a store – and he was seeing that for the first time. He definitely noticed an immediate improvement in color vision.”
According to Wick, the glasses were “kind of an accident.” They were developed by Don McPherson, PhD, who developed the glasses for surgeons to use during laser surgical procedures to help differentiate between blood and surrounding tissue. “It made things stand out a little better during surgery,” Wick says. “He didn’t realize at that time what kind of affect this would have on someone who was color blind. A friend who was color blind tried them on and could see colors. That’s when McPherson realized they could be used another way: to help color blind individuals. He started doing research to see how he could make them better for color blindness.”
If you are color blind and you think EnChroma could work for you, make an appointment with JulieAnn Wick, OD, at Trinity Regional Eyecare-Western Dakota, in Williston, by calling 701-572-7641.