Color Blind Glasses: Everything You Need to Know
If you’ve been diagnosed as color blind, you may be wondering if there’s anything you can do about it. Whilst there’s no known cure yet for color blindness, there might be a way to correct it on the day-to-day. Today, we’re talking about color blind glasses.
We’ll explain how color blind glasses really work, the different types that exist and how you can grab a pair for yourself. Let’s dive in!
What are color blind glasses?
Color blind glasses do exactly as you might guess! They have special corrective lenses that alter the color perception of the person wearing them. The idea is to help the wearer see a wider spectrum of colors in their day-to-day life. That way, color blindness has less of an impact on them.
Color blind glasses could be particularly helpful to you if you work in the arts or with colored signals – like air traffic control, for example.
The different types of color blindness
If you are unable to see colors in the full spectrum that most people can, you’re considered color blind. It’s a tricky diagnosis because everyone perceives colors a little differently (cue the arguments about whether an object is “greeny-blue” or bluey-green”).
All types of color blindness are normally present from birth. It’s rare that color blindness happens later in life unless you have an eye disease. If you have blurred vision, enlarged pupils, red eyes or any other unusual symptoms, consult an optometrist.
There are several types of color blindness in the world. Let’s break them down.
1. Complete color blindness
- The rarest type of color blindness is monochromacy. This is when you can’t see any colors at all. It’s extremely uncommon and unfortunately, there aren’t color blind glasses that can help.
2. Red-green color blindness
- Deuteranomaly is the most common type of red-green color blindness and the most common type of color blindness in general. People with deuteranomaly see green as more red.
- Protanomaly is the opposite – it makes red look more green. It also makes red look dimmer but it’s a mild form of colorblindness.
- Protanopia and deuteranopia are the final two types of red-green colorblindness. They are very rare. They both make it impossible to tell the difference between red and green.
3. Blue-yellow color blindness
- Tritanomaly is quite rare. It makes it difficult to tell between green and blue, and yellow and red.
- Tritanopia is the most complex of the types of colorblindness. You can’t tell the difference between blue and green, purple and red, and yellow and pink. Colors tend to appear dull or dim too.
How do color blind glasses actually work?
Let’s start with how we perceive colors in the first place.
Your retina is a layer of nerve cells at the back of your eye. Within those cells, there are specialized receptors called rods and cones. Rods help you pick up light. Cones help you pick up colors.
These clever cones can pick up red, green and blue as information and send it to the brain for processing. It’s the nuance of the brain that helps you determine the exact color.
Cones contain chemicals called photopigments that help them carry out this important role. If photopigments are low, the color reading is skewed. Most of the time, it’s the red and green cones that mess up, which is why red-green color blindness is more common.
Color blind glasses work by mimicking photopigments. They amplify the saturation of the colors you see to help the faulty cones perceive the color more accurately. They also filter out some of the color wavelengths so that your brain is less confused by the difference between green and red.
Does this truly work? It can – but it doesn’t work for everyone. It’s helpful to those with mild-moderate colorblindness.
What do color blind glasses see?
Color blind glasses help the wearer to see colors more clearly. For those with normal vision, color blind glasses may appear slightly tinted depending on the type of lenses they have.
A good example comes from the discovery of color blind glasses. A doctor was wearing tinted glasses made to protect the eyes of surgeons. He let his friend use them and the friend could suddenly see colors they’d never seen before. And yes, that friend was color blind! More specifically, he was protanomalous which means he saw red as more green. By wearing the glasses he saw orange for the first time.
But to the surgeon with normal vision, the glasses had a pink tint. The color of the tint depends on what type of colorblindness the glasses are trying to correct.
Can you fix color blindness with glasses?
“Fix” is probably the wrong term to use here. You can lessen the impact of color blindness in mild to moderate cases. But you can’t completely cure your color blindness with glasses.
It’s unclear how much glasses can permanently impact or correct your vision like, say, an eye patch can correct a squint.
It’s better to think of color blind glasses as a temporary filter that helps you see colors more vividly as opposed to a fix or cure. But there is some evidence to say that your color vision can improve slightly with extended use of color blind lenses.
Studies have found that glasses for color blindness do make a drastic impact on the quality of life of those who wear them.
A study conducted using one of the most popular brands of colorblindness correcting lenses, enChroma, is a great example. 13 participants with varying degrees of red-green colorblindness. After just 11 days of wearing the lenses, the researchers found that color vision improved even without the filters.
A 66 year old man with severe protanomaly (red appears more green) finally discovered the joy of seeing bright red tomatoes in his garden and a full spectrum rainbow.
Another study conducted by the UC Davis Health Center also tested enChroma lenses on color vision-deficient students and had similar results. Using the glasses for over 2 weeks had an impact on how the participants could see colors after the study. But it wasn’t a permanent change.
One student said “I can look at trees and clearly tell that each tree has a slightly different shade of green compared to the rest…I had no idea how colorful the world is and feel these glasses can help color blind people better navigate color and appreciate the world”.
So it’s clear that even though the effects of color blind glasses are still likely temporary, they have a huge effect on how you can see the world. And if you keep using them, who knows! They might change the way you see the world forever.
Crucially, color blind glasses don’t work for those with complete colorblindness (monochromacy). They also don’t work well for people with severely faulty red or green cones. You need to have some color perception for color blind glasses to work.
Do I need a prescription for color blind glasses?
No, you don’t need a prescription to purchase colorblind glasses.
Prescriptions do exist though, so consult your optometrist if you want one. It’s worth noting that prescription glasses tend to be more expensive than off-the-rack options. Speaking of expense…
How expensive are color blind glasses?
The cost of a good pair of color blind glasses depends on the manufacturer you choose and if they are prescription or not. Unhelpful answer, I know.
On average you can expect color blind glasses to cost upwards of $150-250.
This may seem pricey but the special lenses raise the price over regular glasses. If you need a regular glasses prescription for short-sightedness or long-sightedness, it may be even more expensive.
Things to know before buying color blind glasses
So now you know how these glasses work and the types of colorblindness they cater to. Before you rush out to buy your own pair, here are some important things to keep in mind.
1. Colorblindness glasses don’t work for everyone
These filtered glasses are only meant for people with mild color issues. If you have severe colorblindness or blue-yellow colorblindness, you might not get the results you’re looking for. Even some with mild conditions may still not get the dramatic results they want. If you can, try out a pair of colorblindness-correcting glasses in person before you buy them just so that you have a realistic view of how they can help you.
2. Colorblindness glasses are not suitable for night vision or blurred vision
These glasses lower the amount of light reaching the eye so it’s not a good idea to wear these glasses at night. If you have cataracts or macular degeneration, you should also steer clear of these glasses. They’ll make your vision even more challenging.
3. Colorblindness glasses are not suitable for driving
Most major manufacturers of colorblindness glasses warn against wearing them while you’re driving.
4. Colorblindness glasses are rarely covered by insurance
Because they aren’t a medical necessity, most medical insurance companies won’t cover glasses for your colorblindness. You’ll have to cover the expense totally from your own pocket. So it’s even more important that you’re happy with the transformation they offer before you buy them. If in doubt, ask your optometrist if they think these glasses will be suitable for you.
Final thoughts: can color blind glasses help you?
Glasses for color blindness have been clinically proven to help people with mild to moderate color blindness see colors more vividly and clearly. If they’re within budget and you can find glasses that specifically cater to your type of colorblindness, it may be worth trying.
That said, many colorblind people live full and rich lives without any color-blind correcting lenses at all. It’s not an essential part of eye care. So do what feels best for you when caring for your vision!