Understanding Colorblindness

If you can't see the number, you might be suffering from colorblindness.

Also referred to as a color vision deficiency, colorblindness affects about 1 in 12 males and 1 in 20 females. Contrary to popular belief, a person who is colorblind doesn’t see the world in shades of grey – instead, they have difficulty seeing red, green, or blue. Although colorblindness is classified as a mild disability, it can impact a child’s ability to excel in school, disqualify adults for certain jobs, and make some aspects of day-to-day life difficult for colorblind individuals. However, the majority of people who suffer from colorblindness adapt to their condition quite well.

Causes of Colorblindness

Most colorblindness is inherited – it’s been shown that mutations on the X chromosome have a causal link to red-green photoreceptor dysfunction. According to the Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man database of the John Hopkins University, there are at least 19 different chromosomes and 56 genes that could lead to the condition, making it difficult to pinpoint one chromosome or gene as the cause. Since the genes associated with colorblindness are linked to the X chromosome, it’s more prevalent in males than females.

Although the majority of colorblindness cases are genetic, it can also be acquired. The leading cause of non-hereditary or acquired colorblindness occurs in adults whose eyes were overly exposed to ultraviolet light as children. Other causative factors include retinal damage caused by trauma, which can inflame the occipital lobe of the brain. Other ailments and degenerative conditions can also trigger colorblindness, especially in individuals with macular degeneration associated with advanced age and retinal damage caused by diabetes.

Symptoms of Colorblindness

Typically revealed during childhood, parents of colorblind children may notice their toddler has difficulty recognizing different colors. In some cases, colorblindness may go undiagnosed until adult hood. The most obvious symptom is the ability to see some colors but not others, or the inability to distinguish between two different colors. The extent to which color vision deficiency limits a person is dependent upon the type and severity of the deficiency.  In most cases, patients can live with the condition by familiarizing themselves with alternate cues for determining a particular color scheme.

Disadvantages of Colorblindness

Although many colorblind individuals learn to adapt to their condition, there are some simple disadvantages to living with colorblindness. Cooking can be a frustrating experience, as telling when meat is cooked can be next to impossible for a red-green colorblind individual. Deciding which tomatoes are ripe and which are still green can also prove to be difficult. While most colorblind individuals can identify between the green and red lights used in modern traffic lights, some will have to learn to check the position of which light is lit.

Unfortunately, colorblindness can make some jobs difficult or altogether impossible. Working with fashion and art can be extremely difficult, and working in the military or with planes is out of the question. Some forms of engineering require individuals to work with colored wiring and, in certain situations, differentiating between them is crucial. Thankfully, civilian flying laws are more relaxed and, if flying is your passion, flying a commercial aircraft professionally may still be an option.