5 Common Questions Regarding Colorblindness

Colorblindness has become a hot topic over the last couple of weeks due to the unexpected controversy that occurred during the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets football game on Thursday, November 12th. Colorblind fans of these two teams were unable to distinguish between the all-red and all-green uniforms that were part of the NFL’s Color Rush campaign. This campaign is an initiative by the NFL (and designed by Nike) that was implemented to combine “current and historic uniform colors and designs into one new uniform honoring the franchise and energizing the fan base.” However, the NFL failed to realize that the red and green uniforms would cause difficulty for fans who are red-green colorblind.

With this topic of colorblindness now making it’s way to the forefront on social media and television, many questions have also come up regarding color vision deficiencies and the people it affects. Here, we will answer some of the most common questions regarding colorblindness.

What is Colorblindness?

Colorblindness is not actually a form of blindness (the term “blindness” is misleading), but it is a deficiency in the way that a person perceives color. Colorblindness is most commonly a genetically inherited condition that affects an estimated 8% of males, and less than 1% of females (although it can be acquired).

What Do Colorblind People See?

A lot of people have this idea that colorblind people see certain colors as just different shades of gray; this is mostly untrue (except in rare forms). Most people who are considered to be colorblind actually do see color, but their color perception is inaccurate, making it easy for them to confuse certain colors. The most common form of inherited colorblindness is a deficiency in distinguishing between reds and greens, which is why so many football fans found watching the Jets vs. Bills football game so tough to watch.

Will My Child be Colorblind?

Colorblindness is caused by an x-linked recessive gene. Therefore, a colorblind male will not be able to pass the gene to his sons (because he only passes a y chromosome to his boys), but will pass the gene to all of his daughters. His daughters will only be colorblind if their mother was either colorblind, or a carrier. Anytime a mother passes along this x-linked trait to her son, he will be colorblind. Again, a daughter who receives the gene from her mother also has to get the gene from her father to be colorblind.

Is There Treatment for Colorblindness?

There is currently no cure for colorblindness; however, a lot of research is being conducted on gene therapy, but it will not be considered for humans until proven safe. Some optometrists are also currently using tinted contact lenses (such as the x-chrom lens) or other specialty spectacle lenses (EnChroma) to help enhance color perception, but this does not fully allow people to perceive all colors as those with normal color perception would see them.

Are There Other Types of Colorblindness?

Very rarely do we see someone who has total colorblindness and the inability to perceive any colors. Red-green colorblindness is the most common type of color vision deficiency, but it is also possible to inherit or acquire a blue-yellow color deficiency.

If you believe that you or your child are colorblind, your optometrist will be able to test your color perception in their office and determine if you have a deficiency in the way you perceive color. They can also determine the type of color vision deficiency that you have and educate you regarding possible ways to manage this disorder.

~Amanda K. Dexter, OD
San Diego, CA
California Optometric Association

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