Color blindness usually affects a person’s ability to tell the difference between shades of red and green or shades of blue and yellow. Complete color blindness, which is very rare, causes a person to see most objects in shades of gray.
Color blindness occurs when light-sensing receptors in the eye do not work properly.
If you think you have this condition, contact your doctor. Although most color blindness cannot be cured or treated, you can learn simple ways to manage your difficulty seeing color differences. Some cases of color blindness may point to another illness that will need treatment.
Most color blindness is inherited. Less frequently, color blindness is caused by a disease that affects the optic nerve or retina. This is referred to as acquired color blindness.
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Heredity is the main factor that controls your chance of having color blindness. If your mother, father, or grandparents were color blind, you may have the gene(s) that cause color blindness.
The following risk factors increase your chance of developing acquired color blindness:
If you cannot distinguish between some colors—particularly red and green or blue and yellow—see your doctor to determine if it is color blindness or another health condition.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. An eye exam and vision test will be done. Or, you will be referred to an ophthalmologist (eye specialist) for testing. You may want to consider going to an eye specialist first. The eye specialist may be better able to make a diagnosis.
Your doctor may to test your vision. This can be done with:
There is no cure for inherited color blindness. Most people with color blindness learn to tell the difference between colors.
Talk with your doctor about coping skills. Depending on the level of color blindness, some doctors recommend using color-corrective glasses or contact lenses.
In some cases of acquired color blindness or deficiency, treatment of the medical problem may correct the color blindness.
To help reduce your chances of getting acquired color blindness, discuss your use of prescribed medicines with your doctor.
American Academy of Ophthalmology
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Canadian Association of Optometrists
Canadian Ophthalmological Society
Does Being Color-Blind Affect Children? Pediatric Alert. 2004; 29(22):131-132.
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More on color blindness. Child Health Alert. 2005; 25: 4-5.
Tsuda H, Ishikawa H, et al. A neuro-ophthalmological analysis in 80 cases of multiple sclerosis. Rinshō shinkeigaku (Clinical neurology). 2004; 44:513-521.
What is color blindness? EyeSmart website. Available at: http://www.geteyesmart.org/eyesmart/diseases/color-blindness.cfm. Accessed December 31, 2012.
Last reviewed March 2013 by Brian Randall, MD
Last Updated: 3/15/2013