Navigate Up

Full Library - A-Z Index


Print This Page

Color blindness

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

Alternative Names

Color deficiency; Blindness - color

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

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

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 usually have problems identifying reds and greens, too.

The most severe form of color blindness is achromatopsia. A person with this rare condition cannot see any color, so they see everything in shades of gray. Achromatopsia is often associated with lazy eye, nystagmus (small, jerky eye movements), severe light sensitivity, and extremely poor vision .

Most color blindness is due to a genetic problem. (See: X-linked recessive ) 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, among 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, the symptoms may be so mild that some people do not know they are color blind. A parent may notice signs of color blindness when a child is learning his or her colors.

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

Signs and tests

Your doctor or eye specialist can check your color vision in several ways. Testing for color blindness is commonly done during an eye exam .

Treatment

There is no known treatment. However, there are special contact lenses and glasses that may help people with color blindness tell the difference between similar colors.

Expectations (prognosis)

Color blindness is a lifelong condition. Most people are able to adjust to it without difficulty or disability.

Complications

People who are colorblind may not be able to get a job that requires the ability to see colors accurately. For example, electricians (color-coded wires), painters, fashion designers (fabrics), and cooks (using the color of meat to tell whether it's done) need to be able to see colors accurately.

Calling your health care provider

Make an appointment with 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 15th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2009:chap 19.

Berson EL. Visual function testing: clinical correlations. In: Tasman W, Jaeger EA, eds. Duane's Foundations of Clinical Ophthalmology 15th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2009: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.

Updated: 6/1/2011

Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine; and Franklin W. Lusby, MD, Ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com