Eye Health

Updated 09 December 2015

New glasses ‘correct’ colour blindness for some

A few years ago a company called EnChroma started marketing glasses that claim to restore normal vision to colour blind people.

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People who are colour blind struggle to distinguish between certain colours like red and green – which is the most common – and sometimes blue and yellow. The inability to see any colour at all is very rare.

More men than women suffer from colour blindness and in Caucasians about 7% of men and less than 1% of women are affected.

According to the Life Peninsula Eye Hospital in Cape Town the gene for colour blindness is carried on the X chromosome, so only boys get the inherited variety.

The red, blue and green cones in the retina of the eye enable us to see colour, and in inherited colour blindness there are deficiencies or abnormalities in certain cones, or some might even be entirely absent.

A person with red-green colour blindness sees the world differently because their red and green photopigments have more “overlap” than normal.

Image: The EnChroma Hawk  glasses that sport a rectangular semi-wrap metal frame with a low profile and a wide field of vision.

Colours ‘washed out’

There are different degrees of colour blindness and, and the severity of the condition ranges from people who only struggle to see colours in dim light to those who cannot distinguish colours in any light and see everything as shades of grey. Both eyes are usually affected equally and the condition tends not to change over time.

Seeing things only in shades of grey (achromatopsia) is rare, and most colour blind people only see certain colours as “washed out” and tend to confuse them with other colours. If you experience a gradual loss of colour vision, you could have cataracts.

Read: More people getting cataracts

Being colour blind is a handicap in the following professions: firefighter, pilot, electrician, painter, policeman/detective, driver, baggage handler.

There are colour blindness tests that can help you to find out what kind of colour blindness you have.

Non-genetic (acquired) causes of colour blindness include:  

  • Chronic illnesses like Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and retinitis pigmentosa    
  • Cataracts (cloud the eye’s lens)  
  • Accidents that damage the retina or affect particular areas of the eye or brain  
  • Medications like antibiotics, high blood pressure medications and drugs to treat psychological and nervous disorders 
  • Chemicals like carbon monoxide, fertilisers and styrene 
  • Ageing (can damage retinal cells)

'Accident' in a laboratory

A few years ago a company called EnChroma started marketing glasses that claim to restore normal vision to colour blind people. These glasses basically restore normal colour vision by “tweaking” the proportions of light a colour blind person’s eyes are exposed to.

Read: Colour therapy

An “accident” in a laboratory at Alfred University in Western New York, USA, led to the discovery that special lens formulas invented for laser surgery protection had certain transformative properties on colour appearance.

This led to research which indicated that these optical filters could assist the colour blind. In 2010 EnChroma Inc. was founded and in 2012 the first version of their lens was launched. In 2014 EnChroma switched form a glass lens to a plastic lens, which was widely accepted by eye-care professionals.  

For some colour blind people EnChroma glasses are life-changing , but for others there is little or no change in the way they see colour. The new lenses only benefit those with red-green colour blindness, and are of little use to people who suffer from the more severe forms of colour blindness.

Basic prices range from ±R5 800 to R6 400, subject to variations in the exchange rate, customs duty, sales tax and import fees.

EnChroma ships to customers around the world. 

Watch: A short documentary called Color for the Color Blind shares evocative personal stories from four colour blind individuals and their reactions to experiencing certain colors for the first time wearing EnChroma glasses. The film was produced by Valspar Corporation (VAL), a global leader in the paint and coatings industry.

Read more:

What it's like to be colour blind  

Screening in clinics detects eye problems early on

How to safely fix your eye problems yourself

 

Ask the Expert

Optometrist

Megan Goodman qualified as an optometrist from the University of Johannesburg and is currently practising at Tygerberg Academic Hospital in Cape Town. She has recently completed a Masters degree in Clinical Epidemiology at Stellenbosch University. She has a keen interest in ocular pathology and evidence based medicine as well as contact lenses.

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