Colour vision


Colour vision deficiency may be a hereditary condition or caused by disease of the optic nerve or retina. Acquired (not from birth) colour vision problems only affect the eye with the disease and may become progressively worse over time. Patients with a colour vision defect caused by disease usually have trouble discriminating blues and yellows.

Inherited colour vision deficiency is most common, affects both eyes, and does not worsen over time. This type is found in about 8% of males and 0.4% of females. These colour problems are linked to the X chromosome and are almost always passed from a mother to her son.

Colour vision deficiency may be partial (affecting only some colours), or complete (affecting all colours). Complete colour vision deficiency is very rare. For this reason it is better to refer to colour vision deficiency. Those who are completely colour blind often have other serious eye problems as well.

Photoreceptors called cones allow us to appreciate colour. These are concentrated in the very centre of the retina and contain three photosensitive pigments: red, green and blue. Those with defective colour vision have a deficiency or absence in one or more of these pigments.

Signs and Symptoms

The symptoms of colour vision deficiency are dependent on several factors, such as whether the problem is congenital, acquired, partial, or complete.

  • Difficulty distinguishing reds and greens (most common)
    Colour-normal vs colour-deficient viewed apples (these are the same apples)
  • Difficulty distinguishing blues and greens (less common)

The symptoms of more serious inherited colour vision problems and some acquired types’ problems may include:

  • Objects appear as various shades of grey (complete colour blindness – very rare)
  • Reduced vision
  • Nystagmus (continuous small and jerky eye movements)

Detection and Diagnosis

Colour vision deficiency is most commonly detected with special coloured charts called the Ishihara Test Plates. On each plate is a number composed of coloured dots. Once the colour defect is identified, more detailed colour vision tests may be performed. Other colour vision tests exist, but the Ishihara is popular due to its sensitivity and ease of use.


There is no treatment or cure for colour vision deficiency. Those with mild colour deficiencies learn to associate colours with certain objects and are usually able to identify colour as everyone else does. However, they are unable to appreciate colour in the same way as those with normal colour vision.