There are a few possible reasons why you may be noticing differences in the way you perceive color:
Changes in Your Eyes
As we age, the lenses in our eyes gradually yellow and become less transparent. This can cause colors to appear more muted or distorted. Cataracts, which cloud the lenses, have a similar effect. Changes to the cornea and retina as you get older may also impact your color perception.
If the changes seem sudden, it could signal an underlying eye condition like macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy. You should see an optometrist or ophthalmologist for an exam to determine if any disease or damage is affecting your eyes.
The way we perceive color happens in the brain, not just the eyes. So neurological conditions can also cause color changes or distortions:
- Migraines – Some people experience “auras” before migraines where colors and lights seem abnormal.
- Stroke – A stroke in the occipital lobe where color processing occurs may impact color vision.
- Multiple sclerosis – This autoimmune disease can cause optic neuritis, inflammation of the optic nerve that carries signals from the eye to the brain.
- Parkinson’s disease – Impaired color perception and contrast sensitivity is common with Parkinson’s.
- Alzheimer’s disease – Inability to differentiate colors may be an early sign of Alzheimer’s dementia.
If the color changes seem unexplained, it’s a good idea to see a neurologist to assess whether an underlying condition is responsible.
Certain prescription and over-the-counter medications may alter color perception as a side effect. These include:
|Blood pressure||Norvasc, Lopressor|
|Cough and cold||Robitussin, Nyquil|
|Recreational drugs||LSD, ecstasy|
The changes tend to be temporary and will resolve once you stop taking the medication. Check with your doctor if you notice color changes after starting a new prescription.
Toxins and Chemicals
Exposure to certain toxins like metals, paint fumes, and cleaning products may impact color vision:
- Lead – Found in old paint, leaded gasoline, water pipes
- Mercury – From contaminated fish, dental fillings, cosmetics
- Solvents – In paint thinners, varnish, glue
- Cleaning agents – With bleach, ammonia, acids
- Pesticides – Insecticide and herbicide chemicals
Wearing proper protective gear when exposed to toxins can help prevent damage. But if you suddenly notice color changes, get a blood test to check if high levels of heavy metals or other toxins are present.
Not getting enough key vitamins and minerals can affect your vision and color perception. Deficiencies to look out for include:
- Vitamin A – Found in liver, milk, carrots. Lack of vitamin A can lead to poor night vision and blindness.
- B vitamins – Found in meat, legumes, seeds. Deficiency can cause optic neuropathy.
- Vitamin D – Synthesized from sun exposure. Low levels may be tied to macular degeneration.
- Vitamin E – Found in nuts, seeds, spinach. Needed to prevent eye damage from UV light.
- Zinc – Found in seafood, meats, nuts. Can cause poor dark adaptation if deficient.
Taking a daily multivitamin and eating a balanced diet high in fruits, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats can help provide the nutrients your eyes need. An eye exam can also check for nutritional issues affecting your vision.
In some cases, there may be a psychological or emotional reason you are perceiving colors differently:
- Depression – Depression can cause muted color perception and dimmed hues.
- Anxiety – High anxiety may make colors seem over-saturated or extremely bright.
- PTSD – Post-traumatic stress can alter color perception. Certain colors may trigger flashbacks.
- Synesthesia – This blending of the senses causes some people to associate colors with letters, sounds or tastes.
Talking to a mental health professional can help determine if your color changes may have a psychological component and help you better understand what you are experiencing.
When to See a Doctor
In most cases, subtle color variations are a normal part of the aging process and not a major cause for concern. But some key signs that warrant seeing a medical professional include:
- Sudden color changes or distortions in only one eye
- Patchy areas with missing or altered color perception
- Colors seeming overly bright, washed out or strongly shifted in hue
- Inability to distinguish colors that were once easy to differentiate
- Floating spots, wavy lines or flashing lights across your field of vision
See an optometrist or ophthalmologist right away if you experience these symptoms, as they may indicate an urgent eye condition. Be sure to provide specific details on what you are seeing and how long it has occurred. Getting proper testing and diagnosis is key to determining if treatment is needed to prevent permanent damage to your vision.
Tips for Coping with Color Perception Changes
If your color changes are minor or have a known cause like aging, there are things you can do to adapt:
- Use bright, full spectrum light bulbs to increase color intensity.
- Paint walls in lighter, bolder colors to make them easier to distinguish.
- Label clothing tags with colors to help matching outfits.
- Organize food in the pantry and fridge by category, not color.
- Ask others for input when uncertain about colors.
- See an optometrist yearly and update your eyeglass prescription regularly.
Don’t panic if you notice some color shifts as you get older. But always have major changes evaluated to protect your vision and make sure a treatable condition is not being overlooked.
Altered color perception can stem from age-related eye changes, medications, medical conditions affecting the eyes or brain, toxicity, nutrient deficiencies or psychological factors. Noticeable color variations or distortions should be checked by an eye doctor or other appropriate medical professional. But in many cases, small color differences are just part of the normal aging process and can be adapted to. Paying attention to your color vision and having regular eye exams can help detect any problems early.