Photo by Haris Memović on Unsplash

Why colour blind males aren’t getting diagnosed

Photo by Haris Memović on Unsplash

One in 12 Aussie men are colour blind, yet more than 1 in 3 of those are undiagnosed. Why is this?

Worldwide, there are approximately 300 million people with colour blindness or, more accurately labelled - colour deficiency - represented by around 1 in 12 males and 1 in 200 females.

Approximately 40 per cent of people with colour blindness are unaware that they have the condition, with men representing the vast majority of undiagnosed cases.

While it is commonly referred to as colour blindness most people who have it can still see some colours, they just appear differently, and can confuse colours that look quite distinct to a person with normal vision. (This is why colour deficiency is a far more accurate description, even if less commonly used).

While the consequences of colour blindness may be minor for some, for others it could come as a shock to find out later in life. Let’s explore why.

What is colour blindness?

Colour blindness is the inability to see particular colours in their usual context. For instance, people who are colour blind may have trouble seeing the traffic lights as red, orange and green, and must rely on the position of the light to help.  The colours may also appear dull or less vibrant.

There are three types of colour blindness:

  • Red-green colour blindness: the most common type, affecting eight per cent of males.
  • Blue-yellow colour blindness: less common and affects only 1 in 20 people with colour blindness.
  • Complete colour blindness: you don’t experience colour at all. Complete colour blindness is extremely rare.

Why are men more likely to be colour blind?

Colour blindness can be a genetic condition, passed down along an X chromosome from a parent to a child. Females are born with two X chromosomes while males are born with one X chromosome and one Y chromosome.

Red-green colour blindness is more common in men because if their one X chromosome has the colour blindness gene, they will be colour blind. A female needs two X chromosomes with the colour blindness gene to be colour blind.

Blue-yellow and complete colour blindness are passed down on different chromosomes and therefore affect males and females equally.

Why are men going undiagnosed?

Put simply, it’s because they aren’t getting tested.

Optometry Australia’s 2020 Vision Index revealed that 35 per cent of Australian males are not getting regular eye examinations, even though 56 per cent of men are worried about the quality of their eyesight.

What is the impact of undiagnosed colour blindness?

Many tasks that we do each day rely on us being able to see things by their colour. If people are not able to see differences in colour, they have to rely on other cues, such as knowing red is above green on a traffic light.

People with red–green colour blindness are able to get a car or motorcycle licence. They can also get a commercial driver’s licence. However, some people may have some restrictions placed on their licence, such as not being permitted to drive at night.

People with colour blindness may also be restricted in carrying out certain occupations including the police or defence force, being a pilot, or working in industries where colours are important, like graphic design.

Where to get help

It is important to visit an optometrist if you suspect you are colour blind. Optometrists can easily check for the condition by using specially designed cards with coloured dots in patterns.

Although there is generally no cure for colour blindness, optometrists can recommend ways to manage the condition, with tools like coloured filters or software for particular tasks.

You can use our Find an Optometrist search tool to schedule an appointment today.

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