Is a Pair of Accidentally Developed Sunglasses Really the Key to Correcting Color Blindness?

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Is a Pair of Accidentally Developed Sunglasses Really the Key to Correcting Color Blindness?

Since 2012, California based EnChroma Labs has been able to help hundreds of individuals see colors with clarity, thanks to a find that was discovered completely by accident.

Materials scientist Don McPherson was at one time a specialist in creating eyewear for surgeons to use during laser surgery. Not only were they designed to protect the surgeon’s eyes, but with the rare earth iron embedded in the lens, it was easier for surgeons to differentiate between blood and tissue during surgery.

It was not long before surgeons realized that their special glasses made for really good sunglasses, and began taking them home for recreational use. Even McPherson had a pair at home, which he admits just made the world seem brighter. By chance, he loaned them to a friend during a game of Frisbee, and suddenly the key to correcting color blindness was found.

McPherson’s friend, Michael Angel, was color blind. Yet the second he put on the glasses he was able to pick out orange hues in the landscape, something he had never been able to do before. Up until this point, McPherson had never thought that is surgical sunglasses could serve a higher purpose.

After some research and refinements, McPherson and two of his colleagues founded EnChroma Labs and began producing the glasses in sporty frames to help the over 300 million people around the world who suffer from color blindness. The product is continually evolving, most recently having been changed from glass lenses to a more durable polycarbonate lens.

Understanding Color Blindness

For those of us who do not suffer from this eye affliction, it is hard to imagine a world where certain colors are filtered out. There are three photopigments – or cones – in the eye that are sensitive to red, blue and green. While blue operates pretty much on its own, the red and green cones overlap, which affects the way we perceive certain colors.

The trouble comes when the green and red cones overlap too much, not allowing for certain colors like yellow to filter through. The technology inside of the lenses made by EnChroma places a band on the glasses that captures light and pushes the green and red cones apart. This allows the correct distribution of photons, restoring colors that were previously not seen.

About 80% of the colorblind population is helped by the EnChroma Labs glasses. The other 20% are missing a cone, which is a condition that at this time cannot be corrected, at least for now.

This is an incredible discovery for the vision world, and one that will likely be improved upon even more in the future. The glasses cost around $400 to own, but for someone who has never been able to distinguish a flower in the garden before, having the ability to suddenly do so is priceless.

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