Lenses capture a world of colours

01:43, Jan 31 2009
AN EYE FOR DETAIL: Optometrist Molly Whittington with a tester lens for correction of colour blindness. A colour-deficient pilot reported that the lens made it `easier to identify wind-socks; red wine no longer looks black'.

Thousands of New Zealanders afflicted with colour blindness can now avoid the perils of wearing odd socks and running red lights with the advent of "colour-fixing" lenses.

Auckland optometrist Molly Whittington, who has been running a trial of the ColorView lenses for a year, said the impact for some participants had been life-changing.

"When you have a colour deficiency, the world is a drab place - you can't appreciate the beauty of flowers, you could be mocked for wearing odd socks or clashing colours, and often it's harder to find things because you can't see contrast as well."

Only a tiny minority of people are actually "colour-blind" - they cannot see colours - but colour deficiencies (which are hereditary) are common, affecting about one in 12 Kiwi men and one in 270 women.

The eye has three types of cones - colour-vision receptors - which pick up different light frequencies in the spectrum.

Colour-deficient people see two-thirds of colours correctly but confuse some colours, typically greens, orangey-browns, mauve and purple.

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They also perceive colours as less bright or vivid.

The colour-correcting lenses by Japanese firm Seiko, which look like stylish sunglasses and sell for about $1200 a pair, filter out certain wavelengths of light, allowing wearers to distinguish between colours.

Mrs Whittington, who was in Wellington yesterday to present the findings to the Association of Dispensing Opticians annual conference, said all 30 people in the trial reported improvements in their colour experience.

More than 70 per cent of people had trouble matching clothing, but, with the lenses, that dropped to less than 20 per cent.

The number of people who had been unable to tell the difference between flowers and foliage fell from 75 per cent to 10 per cent, and the percentage who had difficulty with traffic lights halved to about 20 per cent.

A pilot said it was "easier to identify wind-socks; red wine no longer looks black" and being able to see brake lights more easily allowed for smoother driving.

Hunters said it made distinguishing the fluorescent high-visibility vests worn by fellow hunters easier.

The more extreme the colour deficiency, the darker the lenses - which made it impractical for them to be worn in low light or at night, Mrs Whittington said.

"Colour deficiencies are not trivial, they can even impact on people's careers, for instance pathologists, pilots or interior designers ... These lenses could open up new opportunities for people."

The Dominion Post