Do contact lenses that compensate for color blindness work?
May 17, 2009 10:36 AM   Subscribe

Are those contact lenses that compensate for red/green colour blindness actually any use?

I had a long overdue appointment with the optician today. When I told them I was red/green colour blind, the optician then told me that there are contact lenses available that have a red dot that covers the pupil on the dominant eye. She gave me a test lens to try and it did make a difference on the test cards with all the coloured dots where you have to say (guess!) the number.

I imagine these lenses are pretty expensive, and I'm not sure that apart from getting through those test cards it would actually make any difference to my experience of the world. My level of colour blindness isn't very bad, it doesn't impact on my ability to make a living or enjoy life in any way - it's only trivial things that can be a bit frustrating (playing board games and computer games in particular). But, that said, part of me would love to see the world the way most people do.

While I know that my colour blindness is not a big deal, when I used vizcheck (website is gone it seems, but it was a photoshop plugin that converted images to how they would be seen by people with different types of colour blindness) on some photos to show my girlfriend how things look to me (sort of) she got pretty upset and explained to me that the colour red was supposed to be bright the way that yellow is bright. That was a bit of a shock, and while I'd like something as simple as a contact lens that would show this to me... I'm dubious.

Does anyone have first hand experience of using these lenses that compensate for red/green colour blindness? Do they actually make a difference to you when you use them, or is it just a scam, or a device that lets people determined to get their pilot's license pass the test?
posted by Elmore to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have any experience with the contacts, but for your reference and that of the general Ask Metafilter reader's here is a web site that allows you to view images in terms of various vision abnormalities:
posted by JFitzpatrick at 1:07 PM on May 17, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks JFitzpatrick, I hadn't come across that site. Looks very interesting.
posted by Elmore at 2:17 PM on May 17, 2009

Response by poster: My question is really towards anyone who has any experience of using them, and how they have found them, I don't believe that these lenses can possibly add vibrancy, I am interested if these lenses can change my colour vision in a useful way to me.
posted by Elmore at 3:52 PM on May 17, 2009

She gave me a test lens to try and it did make a difference on the test cards with all the coloured dots where you have to say (guess!) the number.

so that wasn't enough to convince you that it works, if even a little?
posted by ArgentCorvid at 5:45 PM on May 17, 2009

Considering the fact that you've actually worn the lenses, I don't know how anyone else is going to be able to help you here. Colour is inherently subjective - and no one who has red/green colour blindness will be able to come in and say "yes it looks just like it does for non-colour-blind people, with these lenses!" because they will have no idea what it looks like for non-colour-blind people.

All I can say is that if you can't see red, you can't see red, and the lenses surely can't help you with that. All it probably does is help you differentiate red from other colours, but there is no way a lens can make it look the way it looks to non-colour-blind people.
posted by Super Hans at 6:55 PM on May 17, 2009

"explained to me that the colour red was supposed to be bright the way that yellow is bright."

This is not accurate. She means vivid, not bright. Red is a dark colour. For example, in black and white television, red looks like black or dark grey. But the colour is "bright" in the sense of intense, like yellow. Eg sports cars are often red or yellow.
I doubt the lenses will change this, it sounds like they assist your eye in distinguishing red from green, they don't make it appear more red or more vibrant.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:35 PM on May 17, 2009

Best answer: This is a hard question to answer because of the whole "You can't see what I see" problem.

I have a friend who gave them a try but couldn't find any justification for them. They do let the wearer more easily distinguish reds/greens. The key word is distinguish. It doesn't let them see that color because it's biologically impossible--you don't have the receptors for it. It simply shifts the colors of light around so that the green you see through that eye is different that you see in the other eye, and your brain goes "oh, that's not red". (Whereas the reds the come in both eyes look more or less as they did before.)

But as you said they're expensive and as far as I know the few restrictions on color blindness, such as full flight certification, can't be gotten around with this. (yet.) According to my friend, it caused some minor headaches and messed with his regular color vision. While he could tell red from green he had a hard time distinguishing between oranges and brows, colors he never had problems with before. So it won't magically turn you into a designer who can work fluently in red and green, and might impair your ability to work with other colors.

So in short: Yeah it works, but there's no point unless your colorblindness seriously impacts your life somehow. My friend couldn't think of a way and found other ways to enrich his life for $600.

(PS: I think the company that makes these things is on a major marketing push right now. Every colorblind person I know who's been to the optometrist recently has mentioned these things. For that alone I'd be wary.)
posted by Ookseer at 9:14 PM on May 17, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks Ookseer. While I did get to try the lens by holding it up to my eye in the optometrist's office - I had no experience of it in the real world. Getting some feedback based on actual experience of these is exactly what I was looking for. I don't think these would have any practical application in reality.
posted by Elmore at 2:54 PM on May 18, 2009

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