Eye-opening facts about color blindness
It's an affliction affecting millions of people, but not everyone knows exactly what this condition is all about.
Can virtual reality fill in the optical "blanks" in people with color blindness?
That's the idea behind secretive augmented-reality platform Magic Leap's newest invention, which is thin on details but is being described as a wearable device designed to diagnose or treat various eye conditions, including color blindness and lazy eye. The Google-backed company, helmed by Israeli-American Rony Abovitz, applied for several patents related to eye diseases, with the goal of making treatment accessible to the masses, not just in doctor's offices.
It's a bit of a departure for the startup, which is headquartered in South Florida with their R&D labs in Austin, Texas; Seattle, Wash.; and near Tel Aviv in Israel. Magic Leap was initially billed as a revolutionary gaming platform that uses augmented-reality software to create a sort of virtual paintbrush around one's field of vision. While that technology hasn't officially surfaced yet, it seems the tight-lipped company is pivoting into the healthcare arena for now.
For the millions of people who suffer from color blindness around the world, this is a promising development. So while we eagerly await Magic Leap's game-changing technology, we bring you a few enlightening facts about color blindness that you might not have known.
Color blindness affects way more men than women.
According to the National Eye Institute, one in 12 men and one in 200 women have some form of color blindness. Why such a big disparity between genders? That's because the genes responsible for the most common form of color blindness – the inability to distinguish between red and green – is linked to the X chromosome. Since women have two X chromosomes, they're less likely to become colorblind because a "good" X chromosome can offset a "bad" one. Men are more likely to become colorblind because they have only one X chromosome, so if it's bad, they're stuck with it.
Color blindness isn't curable, but it is treatable.
Since genes are responsible for color blindness, there's no way to cure the condition. But there are ways to correct it. A couple of years ago, a brand of eyeglasses called EnChroma promised to correct color blindness by reestablishing a balance between three faulty signals from photopigments in the eye. The company released several videos of users trying on the glasses for the first time, one of which you can see above. Reactions range from gasps to joyful tears. "So that's what a leaf looks like!"
All humans are colorblind compared to butterflies.
A swallowtail butterfly perches on a stem. (Photo: Ziva & Amir/Flickr)
Not all animals see color the same way. In fact, most mammals, including dogs, see fewer colors than humans do. The rods and cones in our eyes contain photopigment molecules that change their composition when exposed to light. Some animals have more of these molecules than others. So while dogs only have two photopigment types, humans typically have three. But butterflies can have more than three – much more, depending on the species – enabling them to see colors we could only dream about.
Many migraine sufferers are also colorblind.
In 2015, researchers in Israel examined hundreds of teenage boys who had color vision deficiency and found that they also had a 32% increase in prevalence of migraines. They published their findings in the Journal of Child Neurology. The authors say it's "the first study to confirm the association between color blindness and the occurrence of migraine in a large population of male adolescents."
So does color blindness cause migraines? The study didn't make that leap, but it certainly lays the groundwork for more exciting research, including more effective ways to treat migraines.
Some people live for years not knowing they're colorblind.
If you're born colorblind, you probably think that's just the way things look. Thus was the case for Daniel Mallock, an aspiring pilot with severe red-green colorblindness who found out he had the condition after failing a flight school application test. "This was the dot test that you have to identify the numbers hidden in the dots," Mallock said. "Most people can see these numbers, not me. I hardly saw but one or two. Most folks can see 10 or more in this test. So, no flight school, and I took a different path."
Years later, for his 50th birthday, his wife bought him EnChroma CX glasses, the same ones that made colorblind people cry tears of joy upon seeing color for the first time. "This now is a great adventure of seeing colors I did not know existed, and seeing people, too, in flesh tones that aren’t always green," Mallock said. "I thought everyone had a green tinge but they really don’t. That’s a good thing."
The infamous Dress Dispute of 2015 had nothing to do with color blindness.
It was the argument that broke the Internet. In February 2015, someone posted a picture of a bodycon dress on Tumblr and pleaded with her friends to tell her what color it was. Naturally, the whole of cyberspace responded and polarized themselves into two factions (#teamwhiteandgold and #teamblackandblue), and it evolved into an all-out color war. Why? Are half of us just colorblind?
The answer is no. It was all about the way the light hit the dress. It amounts to a complex yarn of wavelengths and how the visual cortex in the brain processes signals, but all you really need to know is that it's actually black and blue, a fact confirmed by the dress manufacturer.
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