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Color blindness, also known as color vision deficiency, is characterized by an inability to differentiate between different shades of colors, such as red, green, or blue.

The primary cause of color blindness is a lack of light-sensitive pigments in the cones of the eye. This inherited condition affects mostly males, but females can also be colorblind.

In this article, we’ll explore how genetics affects color blindness, how to adapt when you’re colorblind, and other important facts about color blindness.

Color blindness is primarily an inherited condition, meaning that it occurs due to genetics. However, there are some nongenetic causes of color blindness, such as:

  • diabetes
  • certain eye conditions
  • neurological conditions
  • some forms of cancer

The most common form of color blindness is red-green color blindness. With this condition, the gene is passed from the parent to the child on the X chromosome.

Globally, 1 in 12 males and 1 in 200 females are colorblind.

Current research states that color blindness affects roughly 8 percent of Caucasian males. According to a large multiethnic study from 2014, color blindness also affects:

  • 1.4 percent of African American males
  • 2.6 percent of Hispanic males
  • 3.1 percent of Asian males
  • 0-0.5 percent of all females

To understand why sex matters and why males are more likely to be colorblind, let’s further discuss the details of how genetics work.

Biological females have two X chromosomes. Biological males have XY chromosomes.

The gene for red-green color blindness is an X-linked recessive gene. X-linked recessive genes are expressed if they’re present on both X chromosomes in females, and on one X chromosome in males.

Genes explained

  • a child born female would need to inherit two X chromosomes with the carrier gene to be born colorblind
  • a child born male only needs to inherit one X chromosome with the carrier gene to be born colorblind
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Color blindness isn’t common in females because there’s a low likelihood that a female will inherit both genes required for the condition. However, since only one gene is needed for red-green color blindness in males, it’s much more common.

In people with normal color vision, there are photoreceptors in the eyes, called cones, that have pigments responsible for sensing different wavelengths of light. These light-sensing pigments help the eyes differentiate between different shades of colors.

In people with color blindness, the lack of certain pigments means the eyes cannot differentiate between shades of colors.

There are multiple types of color blindness, and each type is distinguished by the cones that are affected. In some cases, color blindness is caused by altered sensitivity in the cones. In other cases, one of the cones has no light sensitivity, leaving only two functional cones. In rare cases, all three cones are missing their light sensitivity, resulting in vision with no color.

Given these distinguishing characteristics of color blindness, the primary types of color blindness include:

  • Red-green color blindness. This is the most common form, causing trouble differentiating between red and green.
    • Protanomaly is when red looks more like green.
    • Deuteranomaly is when green looks more like red.
    • Protanopia and deuteranopia are when you can’t differentiate between red and green.
  • Blue-yellow color blindness. This is a far less common form, causing trouble differentiating between multiple colors, including blue, green, yellow, and red.
    • Tritanomaly is when blue and green look similar, and when yellow and red look similar.
    • Tritanopia is when you have difficulty telling the difference between multiple shades associated with blue and yellow (green, purple, red, pink, etc.).

A third type of color blindness also exists, called complete color blindness, or achromatopsia. This condition is incredibly rare and results in monochromatic vision, or vision with no color. This form is the rarest and most difficult to adjust to.

If you have color blindness, you may need to make changes in your everyday life to adapt to your condition.

Prioritize good lighting

The cones in the eyes only function in daylight, which means that when lighting is poor its harder to see color. If you have color blindness, poor lighting can make it even harder to distinguish between colors. It’s important to make sure that your home and workplace is adequately lit.

Label your clothes

Simple tasks, such as choosing which outfit to wear, can be difficult if you’re colorblind. If you’re shopping for new clothes, shopping with a friend who can differentiate colors is helpful when you’re building a wardrobe. Color-coding with labels or sections can also make it easier to differentiate between the clothes you already have.

Cook with alternate methods

How many times have you heard, “cook the chicken until it’s no longer pink” or “bake the muffins until they’re brown”? For some people with color blindness, it’s difficult (or impossible) to follow visual cues like this.

If you’re colorblind, relying on temperature, touch, and even sound while cooking may help you in areas where vision cannot.

Use accessibility options

Most modern electronics, such as phones, laptops, and TVs, offer accessibility options for people with disabilities.

If you have color blindness, you may be able to take advantage of different color settings on these devices. This can make it easier to navigate without being able to see the original colors.

Utilize apps

There are some apps that can offer accessibility in your everyday life. For example, Color Blind Pal is an iPhone app that helps colorblind users distinguish between different colors in pictures.

You can use apps for help with everyday tasks that require color differentiation, such as choosing outfits to wear or picking out fresh produce to eat.

Having color blindness can also affect your professional life. Certain career paths that rely on color acuity, such as being a hairstylist or interior designer, are more difficult for colorblind people to pursue.

However, there are plenty of careers that will allow you to perform at your best even without full-color vision.

While there’s no cure for color blindness, there may be solutions that can help improve some people’s perception of colors. One potential intervention for color blindness is using visual aids such as glasses and contact lenses.

While specialty lenses can’t “create” the colors that a colorblind person doesn’t see, it can help differentiate between the visible colors.

Color blindness is an inherited condition. It’s commonly passed down from mother to son, but it’s possible for females to be colorblind, as well.

There are many types of color blindness that can occur depending on which pigments of the eye are affected. While there’s currently no treatment for color blindness, lifestyle adjustments and medical interventions can help with everyday accessibility for people with this condition.