Color vision

Ophthalmol Clin North Am. 2003 Jun;16(2):179-203. doi: 10.1016/s0896-1549(03)00004-x.


Many visual disorders produce acquired color vision defects. Color vision theory emphasizes several stages of visual processing: prereceptoral filters (lens, macular pigment, pupil), cone photopigments (L-, M-, and S-cones), and postreceptoral processes (red-green, S-cone, and luminance channels). Congenital color defects, which affect 8% to 10% of males and 0.4% to 0.5% of females, result from alterations in the photopigment absorption spectra or the absence of one or more photopigments. The most common defects are color vision deficiencies (protan and deutan defects), which are milder than the rarer achromatopsias (complete loss of color vision). Acquired color vision defects can be attributed to a number of different causes: alteration of prereceptoral filters, reduced cone photopigment optical density, greater loss of one cone type than the others, and disruption of postreceptoral processes. Acquired color vision defects have been divided into three classes: type 1, red-green defect with scotopization; type 2, red-green defect without scotopization; and type 3, blue defects (with or without pseudoprotanomaly). Blue defects are usually type 3 acquired defects because congenital tritan defects have an incidence of one in several tens of thousands. Red-green defects can be acquired or congenital, and ruling out acquired defects can require a battery of tests (plates and arrangement tests, anomaloscopy, perhaps genetic analysis). Color vision tests must be administered carefully (with a standard illuminant and protocol), and pupillary miosis or high lens density should be noted and their possible effects considered when interpreting test results. Plate tests provide a simple screening method but do not provide a diagnosis. Arrangement tests and anomaloscope testing take more time and make greater demands on the tester, but they provide a more thorough evaluation. When standard protocols are followed and results are interpreted in terms of prereceptoral filters, photopigment optical density, cone loss, and disruption of postreceptoral processes, a battery of color vision tests can be useful in the differential diagnosis, after progression of the disease, and for evaluating the effectiveness of treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Color Perception Tests
  • Color Perception*
  • Color Vision Defects / diagnosis
  • Humans