Changes in Color Perception

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: February 2024

Damage to certain parts of the eye can change the way you see color. The damage may be caused by diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD). These diseases can damage the parts of the eye responsible for detecting color. This causes changes in color perception.1-3

How do we see color?

When light hits an object, certain wavelengths (or colors) of light are absorbed while others are reflected. This reflected light enters our eyes and gets absorbed by the retina. The retina is a layer of special cells at the back of the eye that converts light into signals for the brain.4,5

The center of the retina is called the macula. The macula is responsible for central vision (seeing things directly in front of you). The other part of the retina is the peripheral retina. This part is responsible for side vision. Side or peripheral vision is what you see when you are not looking directly at something.4,5

Photoreceptors are cells in the retina that convert light into electrical signals for the brain. Rods and cones are the 2 types of photoreceptor cells. Rods are responsible for seeing in dim light. Cones are responsible for seeing color.4,5

What causes changes in color perception?

Most of your color vision happens at the macula. Damage to the cones in the macula can change the way you see colors. It can make colors appear dull. It can also make it harder to tell some colors apart.1,2

There are many diseases that can cause changes in color perception. Some examples are:2,3

People with diseases that affect the macula may notice changes in color perception as one of the first symptoms.2

Some people may have low color vision without having a disease. This is usually due to having certain genes passed down from their parents. These genes stop some of the cones in the retina from working.6

Dealing with changing color perception

There is no way to reverse the loss of color perception due to damage to the macula. But there is treatment depending on the type. There are also lifestyle changes that can help make things a little easier. For example, you can:6,7

  • Label clothing items with their color and sort them into similar colors for easier matching
  • Use special glasses that increase the contrast between certain colors
  • Use apps that detect the color of an object from a photo of it

Conversations to have with your doctor

Color sensitivity naturally decreases with age. But certain diseases can speed up this process. If you have noticed any changes in your vision, talk to a doctor right away. Getting care early can mean stopping or slowing down damage to your eyes.3,6

If you are dealing with low color vision, it may be helpful to talk to your doctor about:4

  • Connecting with a low-vision specialist who might be able to provide you with more practical suggestions about dealing with the lack of color vision
  • The progression of the disease and how it might affect your vision

Even if you are not experiencing any other vision impairments, contacting an occupational therapist or a low-vision specialist can be useful. They can teach you about different visual aids that are available and can help you make changes in your everyday life.4

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.