X-Chrom Contact Lens for Color “Blindness”

X-Chrom Contact Lens for Color Vision Problems

by Brian Chou, OD, FAAO, FSLS

  • May 1, 2020

Good color discrimination is required for pilots, electricians, law enforcement, and other occupations.  Imagine if a police officer shot at the brown car instead of the green one.  This would pose a safety and liability hazard.  Therefore, some occupations have color vision requirements.

There are too many children that aspire for one of these occupations, only to find out after much time and investment that they have a color deficiency.  Disappointing, to say the least!  This is one of the many reasons why children should undergo a comprehensive eye exam and not just a vision screening at school or at the pediatrician’s office.  One trick to pass these occupational color vision requirements is wearing a red filter contact lens in one eye, usually the non-dominant eye.  Wearing this type of contact lens creates an additional perceptual clue so you can see what is intended during color vision testing

Color Vision Plates

Color Vision Plates Through Red Filter











The old rigid X-Chrom lens

The X-Chrom contact lens (often misspelled as X-Chrome) gained interest in the late 1970s and 1980s.  Contact lens labs no longer produce this proprietary rigid, non-disposable contact lens.  It was evaluated for aeronautical uses and demonstrated to help with the common color vision plates, called pseudoisochromatic color tests.  But there are drawbacks.  It can reduce depth perception and doesn’t improve the ability to pass some more esoteric color vision tests.

While the X-Chrom lens allowed wearers with color deficiencies to continue career aspirations with color vision requirements, this loophole was closed.  Today, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) specifically disallows the use of color-altering contact lenses like X-Chrom for passing their flight physical.  As another example, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation disallows Peace Officers from using these color filter contact lenses to pass their color vision testing.

The new soft X-Chrom lens

A small number of eye care clinics prescribe the red-filter color soft X-Chrom contact lens, including ReVision Optometry.  Wearers of X-Chrom usually use them occasionally, when they want to enhance color discrimination.  If you have a light eye color (blue or green), the red-color filter contact lens on one eye can look cosmetically disturbing.  However, if you have a dark eye color, this cosmetic difference is not as apparent to people looking at you.

It is important to realize that the X-Chrom contact lens will not cure your underlying color deficiency.  Nor will it allow you to see colors as a “normal” individual would.  It just allows you to perceive colors differently.  Whether this result is better or worse, is a matter of personal preference and interpretation.

How do I get a soft X-Chrom lens, and how much will it cost?

At your comprehensive exam at ReVision Optometry, you can learn your candidacy for the soft X-Chrom lens.  If you are a good candidate, you’ll receive instructions on how to proceed forth, what to expect, and get your anticipated out-of-pocket cost.  For most patients, the lens itself is less than $400.  This excludes professional services including prescribing.  Out-of-pocket cost depends on whether the lens is worn with eyeglasses, if you need astigmatism correction, your familiarity with contact lens application and removal, and if you are using any vision benefit plan.  Our practice can assess these at your comprehensive exam.

What’s the different between color blindness and color deficiency?

True color blindness, or achromatopsia, is exceedingly rare.  Only about 1 in 30,000 have achromatopsia.  Most that believe they are “color blind”, in fact have a color deficiency.  Color deficiency is common, affecting about 1 in every 14 males.  Genetic color deficiencies are linked to the X-chromosome.  Color deficient individuals still have color perception.  They will assign a name to each hue.  But they will often name hues differently compared to someone with “normal” color vision.  The X-Chrom contact lens is for those with color deficiencies.

How about EnChroma eyeglasses?

There are several viral, emotional videos showing the reaction of people putting on EnChroma eyeglasses.  These color filter eyeglass lenses and target those with color vision issues.  Several of the testimonials are moving.  But do EnChroma eyeglasses actually work, or are they smoke and mirrors?  A study has debunked the efficacy of EnChroma lenses. These lenses do not allow wearers to see new colors.  They only allow wearers to perceive the same colors differently.  An article in The Atlantic, and Gizmodo, each found underwhelming results.  Nonetheless, there is a confounding amount pseudo-scientific information promoting these eyeglasses.