What are EnChroma glasses?

Poor color vision or color vision deficiency means you can’t see the depth or richness of certain color shades. It’s commonly referred to as color blindness.

Although color blindness is the common term, complete color blindness is rare. This is when you only see things in shades of black, gray, and white. More often, people with poor color vision have difficulty distinguishing between red and green.

Color blindness is common, especially in men. As much as 8 percent of white males and 0.5 percent of females have it, estimates the American Optometric Association. It’s an inherited condition, but can also be acquired. It can occur if the eyes are damaged due to injury or from another disease that affects vision. Certain medications and aging can also cause color blindness.

EnChroma glasses claim to assist with detecting differences between colors. They also claim to add additional vibrancy to the colors that people with color blindness may not fully experience.

EnChroma glasses have been on the market for about eight years. Several viral internet videos show people who are colorblind putting on EnChroma glasses and for the first time seeing the world in full color.

The effect in these videos appears dramatic. But how likely are these glasses to work for you?

To understand the science behind EnChroma glasses, it helps to know a little about how color blindness happens in the first place.

The human eye contains three photopigments that are sensitive to color. These photopigments are located inside receptors in the retina called cones. The cones tell your eyes how much blue, red, or green is in an object. They then give your brain information about what color objects are.

If you don’t have enough of a certain photopigment, you’ll have trouble seeing that color. Most cases of poor color vision involve red-green color deficiency. This means you have trouble distinguishing between some red and green colors, depending on their intensity.

EnChroma glasses were created for doctors to use during laser surgery procedures. They were originally manufactured as sunglasses with lens coated in special material that exaggerated the wavelengths of light. This had the added effect of making colors look saturated and rich.

The inventor of EnChroma glasses discovered that the coating on these lenses might also enable people with poor color vision to see the differences in pigment that they couldn’t detect before.

Preliminary research suggests the glasses do work — but not for everyone, and to varying extents.

In a small 2017 study of 10 adults with red-green color blindness, results indicated that EnChroma glasses only led to significant improvement in distinguishing colors for two people.

The EnChroma company points out that for people with complete color blindness, their glasses won’t help. That’s because you must be able to distinguish some color for EnChroma glasses to enhance what you see.

We need more research to understand how widely EnChroma glasses can work as a treatment for poor color vision. But it seems like they work best for people with mild or moderate color blindness.

According to the EnChroma website, a pair of adult EnChroma glasses costs between $200 and $400. For children, the glasses start at $269.

The glasses aren’t currently covered by any insurance plan. If you have vision coverage, you may be able to ask about getting EnChroma glasses as prescription sunglasses. You may receive a discount or voucher.

EnChroma glasses are an exciting new treatment option for people who are red-green colorblind. But the other options are somewhat limited.

Contact lenses for color blindness are available. Brand names include ColorMax or X-Chrom.

Discontinuing medications that are causing poor color vision, such as blood pressure medications and psychiatric drugs, may also help. Be sure to talk with your doctor first before stopping any prescribed medications.

Gene therapy for people who have inherited color blindness is currently being researched, but no consumer product exists on the market yet.

Color blindness can be mild, moderate, or severe. And if you do have poor color vision, you might not even know it.

What could appear to other as a vivid yellow may look dull gray to you. But without someone pointing it out, you wouldn’t be aware there was any discrepancy.

Limited color vision can affect the way you interact with the world. When you’re driving, you may have trouble distinguishing where a red sign ends and the sunset behind it begins, for instance. It can be difficult to know if the clothes you select appear to “match” or look pleasing together.

After putting on EnChroma glasses, it usually takes between 5 to 15 minutes before you start to see colors differently.

Anecdotally, it’d appear that some people experience a dramatic difference in the way the world appears. In some cases, people wearing EnChroma glasses can see the nuances and depth of their children’s eyes, or their partner’s hair color, for the first time.

While these case studies are inspiring to hear about, they aren’t typical. In most cases, it takes some time wearing the glasses and “practicing” seeing new colors to notice a change. You may need a person who sees color well to point out especially rich or unique colors so you can train your eyes to identify them.

EnChroma glasses aren’t a cure for color blindness. Once you take the glasses off, the world will look the way it did before. Some people who try the glasses experience an immediate, dramatic result, while some people aren’t impressed.

If you’re considering EnChroma glasses, speak with your eye doctor. They can test your eyes to see if you even need this kind of treatment and talk to you about expectations for your specific type of color blindness.