A Word with the DOCTOR
by Dr John Winsor
The Sunday Times of Malta

YOUR NEIGHBOUR'S taste in clothes or house decoration can tell you a lot about them - including whether they're colour-blind!

Clashing of colours is not necessarily based on lack of taste. It is often due to the fact that people have trouble telling one colour from another.

It is believed that eight in every 100 men have some degree of colour-blindness. Women suffer far less.

Lack of a proper colour sense can be a real drawback, and even a menace in some occupations.

Careful colour vision tests are often given to people applying for certain jobs. Obviously a red-green colour blindness can be catastrophic in some circumstances. Engine drivers and many other railway workers and airline employees must have a sound colour sense.

Branches of the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and the Army insist on stringent colour tests. In recent years, too, proper colour vision has become essential in the electrical industries. A worker must be able to distinguish the coloured wires if dangerous and even lethal mistakes are not to be made.

Certain apprentices in the textile and printing trades seem to get in without their colour vision being adequately tested. Their chances of promotion can be seriously affected.

Oddly enough, a few painters (Constable is quoted as one) have succeeded despite a defective colour sense. This is rather like certain composers getting on with their work even though they may be deaf, for example, Beethoven. Pharmacy is another line where colour vision should be good. A great many tablets rely to some extent on colour for their identification.

If colour blindness has been found - either accidentally or after a medical examination on entering some trade or profession - is there anything which can be done about it? Unfortunately, the answer is 'No’ .

However, there is one comfort. Colour blindness seems to bear no relation to poor or defective vision. It is almost always a problem with which one is born. (...) Colour blindness tends to be hereditary.

It may occasionally be found because of some other relatively trivial physical defect. It seems doubtful whether a cure will be found. Fortunately, there are many jobs where lack of colour sense is not a serious drawback. For such sufferers it is well to leave tie-choosing to someone else and to watch the position of the lights at traffic signals!

There is a tiny minority of patients who are colour-blind in only one eye and I believe these people are of great value in research into the cause of the disability.