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Color Blindness

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KEY POINTS

  • Color blindness is a vision problem that makes it hard to tell the difference between certain colors, most commonly red and green.
  • Usually there is no need to treat color blindness. Most of the time, your child can learn to adjust by using cues other than colors. For example, looking for the position of the brightest light on a traffic signal rather than whether it is red, yellow, or green.

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What is color blindness?

Color blindness is a vision problem that makes it hard to tell the difference between certain colors. It does not mean that your child cannot see any colors at all. Most color-blind children have trouble with just 1 or 2 colors, most commonly red and green. Shades of red and green might look brownish to a color-blind person.

What is the cause?

Special cells in the eye called cones allow your child to see colors. The cones are located in the retina, which is the lining at the back of the eye that senses light coming into the eye. If the cones are weak, damaged or missing, your child may not see colors the same way that other people see them.

Color blindness is most often something a child is born with, and it is more common in boys than in girls.

Color blindness can happen later in life if something damages the retina or the nerve that connects your child’s eye to the brain. This may be caused by:

  • An injury
  • A disease such as diabetes, sickle cell anemia, or multiple sclerosis
  • An eye disease such as cataracts or glaucoma
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Smoking
  • Certain medicines

What are the symptoms?

Color blindness can be mild to severe. Your child may have trouble telling some colors apart or may not be able to recognize certain colors at all.

If your child develops color blindness and has not had it before, contact your child’s healthcare provider or eye care provider right away.

How is it diagnosed?

Your child’s eye care provider can do a simple test for color blindness. Your child looks at a special test book that has a pattern of small colored circles. Some of the circles on the page are a different color and form a number or shape. A color-blind child will not be able to see the number or shape because it looks the same color as the other circles on the page. The test book has about a dozen of these patterns in it to judge how severe the color blindness is. This is a simple screening test that can be used even on very young children.

Your child’s eye care provider may refer you to a specialist for more detailed testing and diagnosis.

How is it treated?

Color blindness is usually lifelong. There is no treatment for color blindness that your child has at birth. Usually there is no need to treat it. People with color blindness learn to tell the differences between colors. For example, green might look brighter than red. Your child may be able to use special contact lenses or glasses to help tell colors apart.

How can I take care of my child?

Most of the time, your child can learn to adjust by using cues other than colors. For example, your child can look for the position of the brightest light on a traffic signal rather than whether it is red, yellow, or green. Your child may find that red looks darker than green.

Your child may need help to do some tasks that involve colors such as:

  • Choosing and buying clothes
  • Reading color-coded maps or weather charts
  • Knowing if fruits are ripe or if meat is rare or well-done

Your child may need to avoid careers that require good color vision. For example, electricians must work with multi-colored wires.

Reviewed for medical accuracy by faculty at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins. Web site: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/wilmer/
Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2019-07-23
Last reviewed: 2019-07-15
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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