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Color "Blindness" Not Really Blindness at All

The medical term is color vision deficiency. But, most of us refer to it as color blindness.

So says Steven Zalaznick, OD, a New York City-based VSP network doctor. Not too long ago he had a distraught man come in for an appointment.

“I asked him what the problem was and he seemed reluctant to speak at first. But then he suddenly blurted out, ‘My wife says I’m color blind, doc! Is she right, or do I just have bad taste in clothes?”

After an eye exam and a few telltale tests, the doctor shared the news: the patient had officially joined the 12 million other American men with color vision deficiency. The doctor also explained the facts.

It’s a genetic glitch that happens – almost always in males – and it doesn’t allow certain color-sensing cells to develop in the retina.

“The term ‘blindness’ is inaccurate when applied to color deficiency,” says Dr. Zalaznick. “What actually happens is these patients lack the ability to distinguish between a couple of key colors.”

The main colors (and their various hues) affected are red and green. Sometimes also blue and yellow. But it’s extremely rare for someone to be totally “color blind” and only see white, black and shades of gray.

So, millions of men have the added potential for wardrobe dilemmas. Big deal, right? Having some issues with sensing colors might not seem that serious.

But, the condition can make it harder for children to do well in school – think of all the color-based work in elementary school, for instance.  And, when those kids grow up, the condition could limit employment options. “Obviously, an employee who has to identify colored wires from a diagram is going to have difficulties,” Dr. Zalaznick says.

The good news: tinted lenses are available that can often help the eyes compensate for the missing color pigments in vision.

Dr. Zalaznick says people with the condition should visit a color vision specialist to make sure they’re getting the support they need.

And, he offers another tip for those wardrobe-challenged guys: get some help in advance sewing tags or otherwise marking clothes so you know what goes with what. And, when clothes shopping, by all means take a friend.

If you notice any difficulty distinguishing colors, make an appointment to see your eye doctor right away.