Colour blindness, or colour vision deficiency, is a hereditary condition that affects 1 in 12 men and roughly 1 in 200 women worldwide. Most types of colour blindness are not severe enough to negatively impact day-to-day life, and those with it are often unaware they are missing anything. But when someone sees colour for the first time, the impact is often overwhelming.
In the past five or so years, several companies have developed glasses designed to help those with colour blindness see what they have been missing. These lenses rely on special coatings and filters to do the job of the defective rods and cones, cutting off wavelengths to enhance certain colours. More specifically, they work to reestablish the correct balance between signals from the three photopigments in the eye of the colour-deficient wearer.
These sunglasses enhance the vibrancy and saturation of colours and help the colour blind discriminate between colours that can be hard to see, but are not a cure, a fix, or a correction for colour blindness.
How do you become colour vision deficient?
Although a few diseases may cause late-onset colour blindness, the majority of affected individuals are born with the gene inherited from the mother’s side. With varying types and levels of deficiency, people can be extremely colour blind, or have a very mild case. Often, the affected person does not even know they are colour blind until someone points it out to them.
The most common form of colour blindness is red-green, meaning those affected have difficultly distinguishing between red and green shades, or the colours will appear dull. Those with red-green colour blindness may see red as black, shades of orange and green as yellow, reds as yellow, greens as beige, and could have trouble telling violet from blue, depending on the sub-type. Blue-Yellow colour blindness is extremely rare, and also a result of a genetic defect.
The development of colour blindness correction
In 2005, Berkeley, California-based Don McPherson, who has a PhD in glass science from Alfred University, originally specialized in creating eyewear for doctors to use as protection during laser surgery. Rare earth iron embedded in the glasses absorbed a significant amount of light, enabling surgeons to not only stay safe, but also clearly differentiate between blood and tissue during procedures.
But when his colour blind friend tried on the pair of sunglasses, it was a surprise to both men that he could see the shade of orange for the first time, as well as distinguish the hue from the surrounding grass and concrete.
Since then, McPherson and two colleagues, Tony Dykes and Andrew Schmeder, founded EnChroma Labs, a company dedicated to developing everyday sunglasses for the 300 million people in the world with colour vision deficiency. They've been selling glasses since December of 2012, at a price point ranging from $325 to $450 USD (approximately $408 to $565 CDN). The EnChroma team has refined the product significantly, most recently changing the lenses from glass to a much more consumer-friendly polycarbonate.
What causes colour blindness?
Colour blindness happens due to the failure of light-sensitive cells in the retina responding to the variations in wavelengths that allow us to see an array of colours. These photoreceptors in the retina are called rods and cones. The loss or impaired function of the red or green cones is what causes the colour confusion. There are different kinds of defects in these cones that determine the type and severity of the colour blindness.
Think you may have a form of colour vision deficiency? An eye exam can determine if you are affected. Find an FYidoctors location near you to schedule an appointment.