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You may know someone who can’t tell the difference between specific colors — and there is a scientific reason it could be happening. 

The condition is known as color blindness.

To share a better understanding of it, ophthalmologists provided some “eye-opening” information to Fox News Digital — including what causes it and when you should see a doctor if you’re experiencing certain symptoms.

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What is color blindness?

Color blindness occurs when someone cannot distinguish between certain colors, usually between greens and reds, and occasionally blues, said Natasha Herz, M.D., spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and an ophthalmologist at Family Eye Care & Surgery in Rockville, Maryland.

In the retina, said Herz, there are two types of cells that detect light: rods and cones. 

Cone cells detect color and are concentrated near the center of your vision; the brain uses input from these cone cells to determine color perception, she said. 

There are three types of cones that see color: red, green and blue. 

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“Color blindness can happen when one or more of the color cone cells are absent, not working or detect a different color than normal,” Herz told Fox News Digital.

“Some people with mild color deficiencies can see colors normally in good light but have difficulty in dim light.”

Severe color blindness occurs when all three cone cells are absent and mild color blindness happens when all three cone cells are present but one cone cell does not work right, said Herz. 

“It detects a different color than normal,” she said.

So, yes, there are different degrees of color blindness. 

“Some people with mild color deficiencies can see colors normally in good light but have difficulty in dim light,” said Herz. 

human eye

“Others cannot distinguish certain colors in any light.” 

What’s interesting, she said, is that the most severe form of color blindness, in which everything is seen in shades of gray, is uncommon. 

“Color blindness usually affects both eyes equally and remains stable throughout life,” Herz said.

Is it hereditary? 

Most people with color blindness are born with it, Herz indicated. 

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“Most often, it is due to retina defects passed from mother to son,” reported Dr. Herz. 

She also reported that men are at much higher risk for being born with color blindness than women. 

Retina

“An estimated one in 10 males has some form of color deficiency. Research also suggests color blindness is more common among men of Northern European descent,” she added.

Although very rare, Herz said color vision defects may develop later in life due to disease, certain medications or trauma to the eye. 

“If people notice they are experiencing changes to the way they usually see color, they should see an ophthalmologist for an exam as soon as possible,” she emphasized. 

What are the symptoms of color blindness? 

Symptoms include trouble seeing colors and the brightness of colors in the usual way, or an inability to tell the difference between shades of the same or similar colors, said Herz. 

“This happens most with red and green, or blue and yellow,” she said. 

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“Many times, parents only begin noticing symptoms when their children are beginning to learn colors.”

Can the condition be dangerous?

Color blindness from birth is generally not considered a dangerous condition — and people who are color-blind are able to live full, normal lives, experts have said.

It may be problematic, however, if colors are used to signal certain things like stop lights, signs, etc.

sunglasses close up

That’s according to Danielle Trief, M.D., MSc, associate professor of ophthalmology at the Edward S. Harkness Eye Institute, Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York. 

“People may need to identify other clues such as the position of lights,” she said.

“Color deficiency can develop with certain medicines … or vascular disease or certain nutritional deficiencies.”

Also, if someone acquires color deficiency, then there may be cause for concern, Trief said. 

“Color deficiency can develop with certain medicines — for example, hydroxychloroquine (or plaquenil), which can affect the optic nerve — or vascular disease or certain nutritional deficiencies,” she said. 

“People who acquire color deficiencies should have a full ophthalmic work-up and see their internist.”

Does color blindness affect other vision issues?

Except in the most severe form, color blindness does not affect the sharpness of vision, said Herz.

How is color blindness diagnosed? 

Your ophthalmologist will be able to conduct a simple test to determine if you have color blindness. 

“The test consists of showing you a pattern made up of multi-colored dots. If you do not have a color deficiency, you will be able to see numbers and shapes among the dots,” Dr. Herz told Fox News Digital. 

Senior man eye exam

“If you are color-blind, you will have a hard time finding the number or shape in the pattern. You may not see anything in the pattern at all.”

Is there treatment for color blindness?

There is no treatment for congenital color blindness, Herz said. 

“There are special glasses that may help by enhancing the distinction between red and green, but ophthalmologists caution that the experience will vary widely from person to person and these glasses often don’t give people a true equivalent of natural color vision,” added Herz.

If you acquired color blindness later in life, your ophthalmologist will address the underlying condition or drug that caused the problem, she noted.

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