Anatomy And Physiology

Color Blindness



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How many people have seen someone (usually a man) and thought to yourself “Oh my goodness did he get dressed in the dark this morning?” Not everyone you see garishly dressed is doing it for effect or simply has no fashion sense, many of these people are actually color blind and just don’t realize it.

Between 8 and 12 % of white males of European decent suffer with color blindness. One half of 1% of females suffer the same malady.

Color blindness or color vision deficiency (CVD) is a condition in which certain colors cannot be distinguished, and is most commonly due to an inherited condition. It is based in the chromosomal differences between men and woman. Females may be carriers of color blindness but males are more commonly affected.  Color blindness is a malfunction of the retina, which converts light energy into electrical energy that is then transmitted to the brain. This conversion is accomplished by two types of photoreceptor cells in the retina: rods and cones.

Disturbances of color vision will happen if the amount of pigment per cone is reduced or if one or more of the three cone systems are absent. The most common color combination, nearly 99%, involved in color blindness is the red/green combination. Not often found is the blue/green combination. Being color blind does not, as some people believe, make the sufferer see only black and white. There are some color blind people who do see only black and white or shades of grey however this is extremely rare. While there is no known treatment for color blindness, fear not....it is not a fatal disease nor does it cause any significant disability other then perhaps offending some peoples fashion sense.

Even though color blindness is not fatal it can be frustrating for true sufferers. Imagine, if you will for a moment, that you cannot distinguish between red and green, varying shades of either or combinations of both.....now imagine you’re enjoying an afternoon on the beach with friends or family, you can’t tell until its way too late whether you or anyone else is getting too red.

Weather forecasts – (especially on the Weather Network) where certain colors just can’t be distinguished on their weather maps. Maps in general present a challenge to the color blind given the multiple colors contained on them.  What about indicator lights....is that oven light green, red, yellow?  And what about traffic lights and worst of all caution lights....We all know the position of traffic lights, red on top, amber in the middle and green (or is that blue) on the bottom. Often when the color blind person goes to another city where the traffic lights are horizontal (Indianapolis comes to mind) it could take a couple of days to get used to the lights like that. Caution lights present an entirely different (and potentially dangerous) problem. If there is only one light in the middle of the intersection, no top or bottom, no right or left, just one light that is either red or yellow...which is it?

When cooking, red deficient individuals cannot tell whether their piece of meat is raw or well done. Many cannot tell the difference between green and ripe tomatoes or between ketchup and chocolate syrup...ice cream and ketchup anyone? I can only shudder to think what a serving of cooked spinach might look like to someone with a green deficiency.

Color blindness is normally diagnosed through clinical testing. The most common test is the Ishihara color test. If you don’t see numbers in some of the circles or don’t see the numbers, you may want to think about having your vision checked for color blindness. Please don’t be alarmed...even with no treatment for color blindness, most color deficient people compensate well for the effects and may even discover instances where they discern details and images that escape others.

The next time you see a gentleman wearing an orange shirt with green pants or a striped shirt with a plaid jacked of opposing colors...don’t be so hasty to attribute his fashion choice to extremely poor taste, it may be his color blindness showing.


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