Color blindness, more accurately known as color vision defect, can be divided into two types – congenital color vision defects and acquired color vision defects. It is caused by abnormalities in the eye’s three types of cone photoreceptors (anomalous trichromatism, dichromatism and monochromatism).
One Indian study found the prevalence of color vision deficiency in 2015 ranged from 5.26% to 11.36% among males and 0.00% to 3.03% among females of six different populations.1 They have varying levels of color vision deficiency — from mild difficulty in distinguishing different colors, usually red and green, to a total lack of color vision.
Presently, there is no treatment or cure for congenital color deficiency, says Professor Dr. Sharanjeet Kaur Malkeet Singh, deputy chairman and graduate coordinator, Research Centre for Rehabilitation & Special Needs, Faculty of Health Sciences, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).
As deficiency in color perception is due to the absence of cone pigments (in the case of dichromats) or different absorption properties of the cone pigments (as in the case of anomalous trichromats) in the retina, they cannot regenerate or be replaced, she said.
Gene Therapy Offers Hope
“However, there is ongoing research in gene therapy that has promising outcomes, which could help convert color defectives to normal color perception,” said Prof. Sharanjeet, adding that an initial trial with patients indicates that this new genetic treatment for complete color blindness is safe.
In about one-third of all patients with total color blindness, the defect lies in the CNGA3 gene, she says. A team from the Institute for Ophthalmic Research at the University Hospitals in Tübingen, and the Departments of Pharmacy and Ophthalmology at Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) of Munich, has developed a treatment that should, in principle, correct this genetic defect.
“It involves introducing the normal version of the CNGA3 gene directly into the patient’s retina with the aid of a harmless virus. After a few weeks, the retinal cells can express this functional version of the CNGA3 gene and are able to produce the intact form of the corresponding protein, which should restore the function of the defective cones,” explained Prof. Sharanjeet. In this case, the healthy gene is transported by an adeno-associated virus developed by Professors Stylianos Michalakis and Martin Biel at LMU.
The first clinical study of this approach, which involved nine achromatopsia patients aged between 24 and 59 years, has been completed at the University Eye Hospital Tübingen and its results appeared in the JAMA Ophthalmology.2 The patients’ visual function improved, both in terms of visual acuity and in relation to contrast and color vision, and without their retinas showing any permanent changes.
Lenses for Color Vision
What about lenses for the color blind? Prof. Sharanjeet says there are some lenses available that might help color defectives to distinguish between some color combinations in certain situations, while others report no benefit or cause further confusion.
There are both active and passive tools that aid people with color vision deficiency. The active tools help color vision deficiency observers in their daily life as they change the appearance of the objects (by recoloring images) through image processing algorithms. This increases the contrast between colors that are indistinguishable for the user.3
“These solutions require a display to show the image to the subject, such as, for example, prototypes of smart glasses. However, this results in a decrease of naturalness,” she noted.
The passive tools are colored filters or tinted lenses, which have recently received increased interest.
“In the 1960s, two companies exploited the original idea of Seebeck (1837) and introduced a lens that just filters one eye (usually the non-dominant eye) for people exhibiting deuteranomalous color vision. The X-Chrom Color Deficiency Contact Lens and ChromaGen Lenses for Color Blindness and Dyslexia are still available on the market today.
“In 2008, X-Chrom was rebranded to Zeltzer X-Chrom. While the X-Chrom tinted lens covers the iris and the pupil, ChromaGen tinted lenses only cover the pupil,” continued Prof. Sharanjeet.
She says analysis has been done on X-Chrom and ChromaGen contact lenses, and reports improvement, as well as worsening on some color vision tests.
“As such, their use can be dangerous for activities such as driving and flying at low light levels, when visual acuity is reduced. It can result in distortions of apparent velocity, visual distortions and impairment of depth perception. The studies conclude that these lenses do not provide a true color hue perception,” she said.
Recently, other companies have marketed glasses with color filters for both eyes, among them EnChroma (Calif., USA) and VINO Optics (St. Thomas, Virgin Islands). Some research has suggested that EnChroma lenses neither improve results in the color vision tests nor allows the color defective individuals to have a more normal color perception.4-5
Meanwhile, VINO glasses were initially designed to enhance the O2 signal from hemoglobin under the skin, but the inventors claim that their technology “aids red-green deficiency,” said Prof. Sharanjeet. Some research has suggested that contrary to EnChroma glasses, VINO glasses improved discrimination for red-green, but only in green defective individuals.5-6
The study by Mastey et al., claimed that colored filters can introduce sufficient luminance or brightness cues that allow individuals with color defective vision to “cheat” on color tests. Mastey also concluded that color vision defective individuals cannot “see new colors” either with VINO or EnChroma glasses.5
“From the literature, it appears that EnChroma lenses do not provide any benefit to color vision defects. However, evidence shows that VINO lenses may be helpful to some individuals with a green color vision deficiency,” says Prof. Sharanjeet.
She says most lenses seek to improve the vision of color-deficient observers by principally modifying the illuminant, but are largely ineffective in enhancing discrimination or perception because they do not sufficiently change the relative activity of the red and green photoreceptors.7-8
However, a new study found that special patented glasses engineered with technically advanced spectral notch filters enhance color vision for those with the most common types of red-green color vision deficiency (anomalous trichromacy).9
The absorption spectra of EnChroma lenses and red and green pigments are very close. In anomalous trichromats, the red pigment and green pigment have very similar absorption characteristics. EnChroma lenses separate the transmission of wavelength (color) to below 600 nm and above 600 nm. This feature might increase the difference of anomalous red and green-cone signals.
“The study does not clearly state how the chromatic contrast responses were determined, but there was an increase in color contrast with long-term usage of these filters, which may have reduced the overlap in stimulation of the cone sensitivities.
“The contrast response enhancements generated by the filters may have led the observers to become more aware of weak perceptual signals and, thus, to have learned to be more attentive to them,” says Prof. Sharanjeet, who notes that the study was done on small sample size and therefore its outcome is limited.
- Fareed M, Anwar MA, Afzal M. Prevalence and gene frequency of color vision impairments among children of six populations from North Indian region. Genes Dis. 2015; 2(2): 211–218.
- Fischer MD, Michalakis S, Wilhelm B, et al. Safety and Vision Outcomes of Subretinal Gene Therapy Targeting Cone Photoreceptors in Achromatopsia: A Nonrandomized Controlled Trial. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2020;138(6):643-651.
- Popleteev A, Louveton N, McCall R. Colorizer: Smart Glasses Aid for the Colorblind. In Proceedings of the 2015 workshop on Wearable Systems and Applications. Association for Computing Machinery. 2015:7–8.
- Gómez-Robledo L, Valero EM, Huertas R, et al. Do EnChroma glasses improve color vision for colorblind subjects? Opt Express. 2018; 26(22):28693-28703.
- Mastey, R. Patterson Ej, Summerfelt P, et al. Effect of “color-correcting glasses” on chromatic discrimination in subjects with congenital color vision deficiency. Investig Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2016;57:192.
- Martínez-Domingo MA, Gómez-Robledo L, Valero EM, et al. Assessment of VINO filters for correcting red-green Color Vision Deficiency. Opt Express. 2019; 27(13):17954-17967.
- Sharpe LT, Jägle H, Wissinger B, et al. CNGA3 mutations in hereditary cone photoreceptor disorders. Am J Hum Genet. 2001; 69(4):722-37.
- Moreland JD, Westland S, Cheung V, et al. Quantitative assessment of commercial filter ‘aids’ for red-green colour defectives. Ophthalmic Physiol Opt. 2010;30(5);685-692.
- Werner Js, Marsh-Armstrong B, Knoblauch K. Adaptive Changes in Color Vision from Long-Term Filter Usage in Anomalous but Not Normal Trichromacy. Curr Biol. 2020;30(15):3011-3015.e4.