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Can you be slightly color blind?

Color blindness, also known as color vision deficiency, is a common condition that affects a person’s ability to perceive colors correctly. It is estimated that around 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women have some degree of color blindness. But can color blindness come in varying degrees of severity? Can someone be just slightly color blind?

What is color blindness?

To understand if slight color blindness is possible, it helps to first understand what causes color blindness. Normal color vision relies on cone cells in our eyes that allow us to see different wavelengths of light as different colors. There are three main types of cone cells:

  • Red cones that detect long wavelengths of light
  • Green cones that detect medium wavelengths
  • Blue cones that detect short wavelengths

When some or all of these cone cells are missing or not working properly, it results in an inability to distinguish colors correctly. Here are the main types of color blindness:

Red-green color blindness

This is the most common type, affecting around 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women. It is caused by missing or faulty red or green cone cells.

Blue-yellow color blindness

A rarer type caused by missing or abnormal blue cone cells. It affects approximately 1 in 10,000 people.

Complete color blindness

Very rare, this is an inability to see any colors at all and vision appears in shades of gray. It is sometimes called monochromacy and is caused by a complete lack of functioning cone cells.

Degrees of color blindness

Color blindness can range in severity from mild to strong:

  • Mild – The person still has some functioning cone cells and can perceive most colors, but has difficulty distinguishing between some shades such as red/green or blue/yellow.
  • Moderate – More cone cells are malfunctioning so more colors look similar and are muddled. Distinguishing any colors is more difficult.
  • Strong/severe – Few if any cone cells are working properly. The person has great difficulty seeing any colors or sees no colors at all.

So in answer to the original question – yes, it is certainly possible to be just slightly color blind. This would correspond to a mild case where someone has difficulty telling certain colors apart, but can still see a range of colors.

Signs of mild color blindness

Here are some of the common signs that someone has a mild or moderate case of color blindness:

  • Confusing red and green colors. For example, not being able to tell ripe strawberries from unripe ones.
  • Difficulty telling blue from purple or pink from gray.
  • When looking at colored dots close together, they see areas with no dots.
  • Difficulty reading colored charts, graphs or maps.
  • Problems distinguishing color shades and hues.
  • Taking longer to do color matching tasks.
  • Relying more on brightness rather than hue to judge colors.

While someone with mild color blindness can still see a variety of colors, they often have trouble discerning subtle shade differences between similar hues like orange and brown or blue and purple. Their color perception is dulled compared to normal vision.

Diagnosing color blindness

There are several methods eye doctors use to evaluate and diagnose color vision problems:

Color vision testing

Specialized tests use colored dots, shapes or plates to detect issues with color perception. Examples include:

  • Ishihara test – Identifying numbers made up of colored dots
  • Farnsworth D-15 test – Arranging colored caps in hue order
  • Hardy-Rand-Ritter (HRR) test – Recognizing colored plates

Retinal imaging

An instrument called a retinal densitometer can shine colored lights into the eye to measure cone cell responses. Abnormal readings may indicate color blindness.

Genetic testing

DNA tests can check for genetic mutations that are linked to increased color blindness risk.

Test Type What it Detects
Color vision testing Abnormal color discrimination
Retinal imaging Cone cell malfunction
Genetic testing Color blindness gene mutations

Using a combination of testing methods helps confirm a color vision deficiency diagnosis and determine the severity.

Living with mild color blindness

Coping strategies for mild color blindness include:

  • Using bright, saturated color shades that are easier to distinguish.
  • Relying more on value (lightness/darkness) than hue.
  • Adding colors names or labels.
  • Avoiding careers like electrician or pilot that rely heavily on color coding.
  • Using tools and apps that help identify colors.
  • Seeing an eye doctor regularly to monitor vision changes.

With mild symptoms, most people are able to adapt and function well in everyday life. The biggest difficulty is often distinguishing red/green or blue/purple shades. Strategic use of color can help make things easier. However, a moderate or severe deficiency causes more significant problems and difficulties functioning.

Is there a cure?

Currently there is no cure for inherited color blindness. However, people with mild symptoms may find tinted glasses or contact lenses help improve color perception. These selective wavelength filtering lenses work by blocking certain wavelengths of light that overlap with a person’s color confusion axis. This enhances the contrast between those colors to make them more distinguishable.

Red-green blocking lenses are commonly used to help red-green color blindness. But for people with very poor color vision, they may not provide much benefit. Other experimental technologies being researched include:

  • Gene therapy to insert normally functioning cone cell genes.
  • Stem cell therapy to regrow healthy cone cells.
  • Retinal implants that stimulate the eye’s optic nerve.
  • Wearable devices that translate colors into sound or vibration.

While we wait for new technology, some coping strategies can help people with mild colorblindness manage their symptoms and continue enjoying the colorful world around us.


In summary, color blindness encompasses a range of severity from mild to complete. Someone with a mild deficiency has trouble distinguishing certain hues but can still perceive a variety of colors. Signs of slight color blindness include confusing red/green, blue/purple, and other similar shades. Specialized vision tests along with genetic testing help diagnose the type and extent of color vision abnormalities. People with mild symptoms can employ tactics and tools to improve their color discernment. However, there is currently no cure for inherited color blindness, so treatment focuses on adapting and compensating for the difficulties it causes.