If the recent kerfuffle about the color of that now-famous dress taught us anything, it’s that there are some moments in life when distinguishing one color from another is subject to interpretation.

It also prompted a keen interest in color blindness among some of the 73 million people who viewed the Tumblr site where the controversy (Was it white and gold? Or blue and black?) began.

Color blindness (or color vision deficiency) is an inherited condition that affects men more than women. Red-green color vision defects are the most common form, affecting about 8 percent of men and 0.5 percent of women in the United States, according to statistics from the National Institutes of Health.

And, it turns out that the word “blind” is a misnomer. “Those who are color-blind aren’t really blind at all,” says Gary Heiting, an optometrist and senior editor for All About Vision, an eye health and vision website. “They still see colors, they just appear washed out, making them easily confused with other colors.” 

There are also several different kinds of color blindness, according to Colour Blindness Awareness. In fact, the myth is that when you’re color-blind you see everything in black and white. The technical name for this is monochromasy, and it’s quite rare.

Color blindness, instead, is better broken down by the color deficiency you may have. For example, if you see red hues more weakly or with less depth or saturation, this type of color blindness is known as protanomaly. If you have trouble discriminating the green region of the spectrum (the most common form of color blindness), your condition is known as a deuteranomaly. The least common color blindness is a sensitivity to blue light, known as tritanomaly.

One indication that you might have trouble identifying colors from one another is if you have ongoing color “conflicts” with friends.

“If you often disagree with others about colors or have difficulty telling if colors are blue and yellow, or red and green, you may be color-blind,” says Heiting.

Ishihara color blindness testStill worried? Consider asking your eye doctor for the most common screening test for color blindness, the Ishihara Color Blindness Test, which is comprised of dot patterns of various sizes and colors that “hide” a one- or two-digit number. What number do you see in the circle on the right, for example?

(It's a 6.)

There are color tests you can take online, but an official screening is your best bet to find out if you’re color-challenged. “If you do a reputable color blindness test and don’t see subtle differences in contrast between colors, it’s a good reason to visit your optometrist or ophthalmologist,” says Alan Glazier, an optometrist with Vision Source, a network of private practice optometrists.

This is especially important if your work depends on your ability to distinguish colors.

“A doctor-administered color blindness test should be given to anyone considering a profession where accurate color perception is essential,” says Heiting.

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Inset photo: public domain/Wikimedia Commons