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Health Series: Research Spotlight

Colour in the clinic - the challenges of assessing acquired loss of colour vision

Organised by City and Moorfields Eye Hospital, the event explored some of the latest research into colour vision, and how it may influence clinical practice.

by Shamim Quadir (Senior Communications Officer)


There are a whole range of deficiencies of colour vision. Those that people are born with are called ‘congenital’ deficiencies of colour vision, whilst others can be acquired at a later stage in life.

Hosted by the Centre of Applied Vision Research at City, University of London, the “Colour in the clinic –The challenges of assessing acquired loss of colour vision” event was delivered by experts in the field. The audience consisted of visual science and health practitioners, researchers, students and others interested in the perception, measurement, reproduction and artistic expression of colour.

The event was jointly organised by the University and Moorfields Eye Hospital and formed part of the schedule of monthly meetings of the Colour Group of Great Britain.


The experts shared how people can lose aspects of their colour vision, and how finding defects in a patient’s colour vision may help health practitioners understand, diagnose and monitor underlying medical conditions the patient may have.


Professor John Barbur, Director of the Centre for Applied Vision Research at City, delivered the opening presentation. He discussed his research into advanced testing of colour vision for people in specialist roles such as pilots, train drivers and air traffic controllers.

Dr Gordon Plant, of Moorfields Eye Hospital, went on to talk about little-known clinical uses of the ‘Ishihara Colour Test plates’ that many of us will recognise from standard eye tests with an optometrist, but that the professionals in the audience could use to help correctly diagnose neurological diseases in their practice.

Dr Gordon Plant sharing little-known uses of 'Ishihara Colour Test plates'


Dr Rimona Weil, of University College London, spoke on Parkinson's Disease and trying to understand what patients' colour vision performance might tell us about the condition, whilst Dr Omar Mahroo, of Moorfields Eye Hospital, asked whether the electroretinogram (ERG) test could have a role in the assessment of light sensitivity (photophobia) in migraine patients. He also shared some of the latest developments in this technology.


Professor Arnold Wilkins, of the University of Essex, ended the presentations with a talk about “visual stress”, which is the experience of unpleasant visual symptoms when reading. He shared a range of research evidence on the effectiveness of using coloured filter lenses and overlays to benefit people with migraine, autism and other conditions.

Through a thought-provoking question and answers session, and a networking session, delegates were able share their own views on the research shared and how they could work to improve their own clinical practice.

Commenting on the event, Professor Barbur said:

Not everyone has normal trichromatic colour vision, with about eight per cent of males exhibiting ‘congenital’ red-green colour deficiency.

“In addition to congenital deficiency, an even larger percentage of both male and female subjects exhibit loss of colour vision as a result diseases of the eye and/or systemic diseases that affect vision.

“Patients at risk of developing diseases of the eye often show loss of colour vision well before a reliable clinical diagnosis is made.

“Improved understanding of colour vision mechanisms, the effects of healthy, normal ageing and recent advances in assessment techniques more than justify the enhanced, current interest in assessing colour vision loss in the clinic.“

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