temporary colour blindness?
August 14, 2006 5:03 AM   Subscribe

I woke up one morning, one eye at a time, with a view of my girlfriend's face. Through one eye, she looked a bit rosy in her cheeks and on her ear, a healthy-looking woman. Switching to the other eye, her skin was pale, and the blush was gone. Surprised, I propped myself up and looked at a red pillow next to my bed: one eye bright red, and through the other a washed out ruddy colour. My eyes seem fine now, but is that all in my head? What happened to my eyes that morning?
posted by Mozai to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should add: I am male, and I've passed all the optician's tests for colour-blindness with, well, flying colours.
posted by Mozai at 5:05 AM on August 14, 2006

I've had this happen from time to time. I think it's simply that your eyes have had different types of exposure and so have slightly different tints at certain times. Things through one eye might seem slightly 'warmer' than things through the other eye. Using both eyes at once, you don't notice.. and since it's rare to only use one eye at a time, you rarely notice the difference.
posted by wackybrit at 5:12 AM on August 14, 2006

I routinely find that one eye has a cooler color tone and the other a warmer tone. By "routinely" I mean always. I don't know why, though.
posted by The Michael The at 5:12 AM on August 14, 2006

I concur with The Michael The. If I stare at objects, especially brightly colored or backlit ones, and look out of each eye independently, the colors I perceive are always a bit off of each other.

I just assumed that this was normal and, in some way, helped us see "truer" color--the same philosophy that theaters use when using a blue and orange gel/light to get "truer" skin tone than using a straight white light.
posted by richardhay at 5:19 AM on August 14, 2006

Was the sun shining on your face? One eye could have adjusted to the brighter light, perhaps?
posted by Malor at 5:20 AM on August 14, 2006

This is completely anecdotal, but I heard when I was younger that that was part of the mechanism behind those red-blue or orange-green 3D glasses. And after you took off the glasses, I always remember having one eye that saw more red and one that saw more blue when you closed them in succession. But I don't remember if it was an opposites effect like that American flag illusion (you were seeing through a red lens in one eye, and so now it tends towards a blue tint) or the same (you were seeing through a red lens and now continue to see red). I'm guessing it's a compensatory thing, so in this 3D glasses example, you'd see blue in the eye that had been looking through the red lens.

Long story short, your eyes are very good at adapting to whatever's in front of them. Perhaps it has to do with that innate ability.
posted by limeonaire at 5:26 AM on August 14, 2006

Did you take Viagra? It is known to distort color perception.
posted by Gungho at 5:28 AM on August 14, 2006

I have the same "warm in one eye, cool in the other" experience. It's especially noticeable in more ambient light situations. I chalk it up to our being organic creations and not perfect factory-built machines.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:28 AM on August 14, 2006

Ditto what The Michael The said. I have the same experience. I find it occurs much more often in the morning.
posted by Meagan at 5:31 AM on August 14, 2006

If you lie on your side for a while, you will find this happens. I'd guess it has something to do with blood flow to the eyes.
posted by A189Nut at 5:31 AM on August 14, 2006

I've had the same experience as The Michael The, no matter what time of day or position I'm in. It's happened since I was a kid. It doesn't seem to hurt anything.
posted by christinetheslp at 5:36 AM on August 14, 2006

Another purely anecdotal answer, but I've had the following situation happen:

Wake up in the morning, had been sleeping on my side such that one eye was on the pillow, the other was exposed to the elements (and the sunlight coming through the curtains that I'd forgotten to close the night before). Through the eye that had been exposed to the sunlight, everything had a bit of a greenish tint (due to sunlight going through my eyelid and passing lots of red light to the eye) and the other eye was normal. Very disturbing for a few minutes.
posted by antifuse at 5:50 AM on August 14, 2006

I've also had the "one eye's view seems different than the other" experience, especially if I've been lying on my side.
posted by Lucinda at 5:54 AM on August 14, 2006

It's not a blood flow thing; it does appear to be exposure/eye dilation related. I suspect the "lying on my side" experiences have to do with the differing mount of light each eye gets, and the resulting dilation of the pupil.

I can close each eye independently, and I get this effect all the time. But it's most noticeable after one eye or the other has been closed for a while. I often read books with only one eye, with no particular preference for one eye or the other; after one's been closed a while, I can notice a real different in colors if I open it and close the other.
posted by orthogonality at 5:56 AM on August 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Well, I'd say it has to do with pressure on the eyeball (and so blood flow.) Lying on your side, say on a cushion, does it, but if you want to get the same effect, press on your eyeball for half an hour or so.

Which is not to say other people don't have it all the time
posted by A189Nut at 5:59 AM on August 14, 2006

I also have had this experience, only when lying down.
posted by toastchee at 6:02 AM on August 14, 2006

ditto The Michael The. All the time. I always wondered if it was only me; everyone thought I was crazy to mention it.
posted by unknowncommand at 6:18 AM on August 14, 2006

Best answer: Do the Black and White Castle optical illusion. It's working ont he same principle.

And to contradict what some of the people above have said, it probably has nothing to do with blood flow or anything physical at all.

Your eyes have two main ways to adapt to different light levels. The first, and most obvious, is to change the size of your pupil. The second, which takes longer, is that the rods and cones in your eyes are designed to become fatigued after enough photons hit them. So if you move from a dark room to sunny outside, it will seem very, very bright even after your pupils have fully closed. But, after 5 to 10 minutes, enough of your receptors will be in bright mode so it will seem dimmer. That's why when you go look at stars, it takes 15 minutes to fully adjust to the dark.

Now, if the light that's hitting your eyes isn't white, it will selectively fatigue your color receptors. So when you look at something else, it will appear to be a different color than it really is. Note, this is the exact same effect that causes humans to be so good at adjusting to different white levels (and why when you take a picture with unadjusted white levels with normal lights it will look very yellow even though everything looked white to you).
posted by skynxnex at 6:22 AM on August 14, 2006 [2 favorites]

I'm afraid I don't have anything to add that hasn't already been said, but I just wanted to mention that

I woke up one morning, one eye at a time, with a view of my girlfriend's face.

strikes me as a beautiful snippet of prose.

To the people with differently color-adjusted eyes, have any of you mentioned it to an eye doctor? Is it a normal condition? I've never even heard of it before.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:44 AM on August 14, 2006

I actually spoke to my eye doctor about this. I had assumed it happened to everyone, but when she asked me if I had any questions at the end of my last exam I brought it up out of curiosity. She told me it is pretty normal, just a quirk of human design. Since I have glaucoma in my family, however, she is more cautious about any changes or oddities in my vision and had me back in for glaucoma tests (which were normal).
posted by Biblio at 6:53 AM on August 14, 2006

Just tried the "keep one eye closed" tactic, and yes, it sort of has the same effect. But since I presumably don't sleep with one eye open, how to explain it in reference to sleeping/lying down, with the face against a pillow. That's got to have something to do with pressure, surely?
posted by A189Nut at 6:58 AM on August 14, 2006

A189Nut: It happens lying down because your eyelids are not perfect at keeping light out. But a pillow is pretty close to perfect.

So when one eye is exposed to the light, tinted heavily read by the eyelid itself, but the other is in the near total darkness of being blocked by the pillow, your eyes will adjust to the differences in light.
posted by skynxnex at 7:24 AM on August 14, 2006

I also see a slightly different colour cast in each eye, with one 'warmer' and one 'cooler'.

Lying sideways in bed, with one eye open and one closed, changing the pupil's size, emphasises it.

I chalked it up as a fairly normal thing. Hope we're right.
posted by Savannah at 7:26 AM on August 14, 2006

What color is the pillow? Sometimes light reflecting off the pillow colors the side of the head that is facing it.
posted by lovejones at 7:34 AM on August 14, 2006

Ditto warmer/cooler colors. I noticed this first when I was about 7 and riding the school bus--through one eye, the bus was a warm pumpkin color, through the other, a cool yellow.

It's never changed. I figure it's human variation and let it go.
posted by fuzzbean at 8:15 AM on August 14, 2006

If it makes you feel any worse, I've never had that happen to me.


The only thing that makes my eyes get off-balance with one another, white-balance wise, is (frex) looking closely at the screen of my Blackberry in late-night gone-to-bed surfing, then turning on the lights; the color balance will have shifted decidedly in the eye that was looking at the screen.

But if you were asleep and your eyes were closed... naw; I've never woken up and had a white balance mismatch. I think I'd be a little concerned...
posted by baylink at 1:34 PM on August 14, 2006

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