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Color blindness

Definition

Color blindness is the inability to see certain colors in the usual way.

Alternative Names

Color deficiency; Blindness - color

Causes

Color blindness occurs when there is a problem with the pigments in certain nerve cells of the eye that sense color. These cells are called cones. They are found in the light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the eye, called the retina.

If just one pigment is missing, you may have trouble telling the difference between red and green. This is the most common type of color blindness. If a different pigment is missing, you may have trouble seeing blue-yellow colors. People with blue-yellow color blindness often have problems seeing reds and greens, too.

The most severe form of color blindness is achromatopsia. This is a rare condition in which a person cannot see any color, only shades of gray.

Most color blindness is due to a genetic problem. About 1 in 10 men have some form of color blindness. Very few women are color blind.

The drug hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) can also cause color blindness. It is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions.

Symptoms

Symptoms vary from person to person, but may include:

  • Trouble seeing colors and the brightness of colors in the usual way
  • Inability to tell the difference between shades of the same or similar colors

Often, symptoms are so mild that people may not know they are color blind. A parent may notice signs of color blindness when a young child is first learning colors.

Rapid, side-to-side eye movements (nystagmus) and other symptoms may occur in severe cases.

Exams and Tests

Your doctor or eye specialist can check your color vision in several ways. Testing for color blindness is a common part of an eye exam.

Treatment

There is no known treatment. Special contact lenses and glasses may help people with color blindness tell the difference between similar colors.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Color blindness is a lifelong condition. Most people are able to adjust to it.

Possible Complications

People who are colorblind may not be able to get a job that requires the ability to see colors accurately. For example, electricians painters, fashion designers and need to be able to see colors accurately.

Whe to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider or ophthalmologist if you think you (or your child) have color blindness.

References

Adams AJ, Verdon WA, Spivey BE. Color vision. In: Tasman W, Jaeger EA, eds. Duane's Foundations of Clinical Ophthalmology. 2012 ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2013:vol. 2, chap 19.

Berson EL. Visual function testing: clinical correlations. In: Tasman W, Jaeger EA, eds. Duane's Foundations of Clinical Ophthalmology. 2012 ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2013:vol. 2, chap 14.

Wiggs JL. Molecular genetics of selected ocular disorders. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 3rd ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier; 2008:chap 1.2.

Sieving PA, Caruso RC. Retinitis pigmentosa and related disorders. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 3rd ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier; 2008:chap 6.10.


Review Date: 5/7/2013
Reviewed By: Franklin W. Lusby, MD, Ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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