A type of high-tech eyeglasses meant to help doctors get a clearer view of patients’ veins and skin problems have turned out to have an unintended side effect. When worn by someone with red-green colorblindness, the lenses can help viewers distinguish reds and greens more clearly.
Colorblindness is a genetic vision deficiency that decreases a person’s ability to distinguish similar colors. People affected by the condition have a lower-than-normal number of color-detecting cells, called “cones,” in their eyes. The problem is caused by a defect on the X chromosome — so while it’s common in males, who only have one X chromosome, it also appears occasionally in women with a strong family history of colorblindness. It’s estimated that about 10% of the population has some type of color vision defect.
Red-green colorblindness is the most common form, followed by blue-yellow colorblindness. Achromatopsia, or a complete lack of color vision, is actually quite rare. While colorblindness could be considered a mild disability, it’s not without an upside — some studies show that colorblind people can distinguish some colors that normal people can’t, and that they’re more skilled at seeing through certain types of camouflage.
Unfortunately, the new lenses only seem to help people with red-green colorblindness, and can’t help people who have the most severe forms of colorblindness. One brand of lenses, Oxy-Iso, is only suitable for people with mild colorblindness and also makes it more difficult for wearers to see yellow lights. The other brand, EnChroma, works better for people with more serious colorblindness — but only really functions outdoors, in natural light.
With a price tag of $300-600, these aren’t lenses anyone’s likely to try on just for kicks. But considering that there are many industries in which colorblindness can hold you back from a promotion — law enforcement, design, the military, some engineering jobs — the lenses might be the perfect solution for those people struggling with tasks that require normal color vision.
For everyone else, there’s the simple satisfaction of finally being able to see a full rainbow in the sky…or just being able to pass your doctor’s colorblindness tests for the first time. Worth a few hundred dollars? That’s up to customers to decide.
Photo credit: Scott Paterson