What is Chromatic Contrast Sensitivity?

What is Chromatic Contrast Sensitivity?

As you age, your eyes go through a lot of changes. You may notice, for example, that you have a harder time seeing in dim lights, driving at night or seeing when there’s a glare. This means you’re experiencing a decrease in luminescence or light/dark contrast sensitivity [1]. When this happens, you struggle to see an object as the lighting changes intensity [2].

But there’s another type of contrast sensitivity that can change as you age: chromatic contrast sensitivity. Chromatic contrast sensitivity refers to your ability to see the contrast between colors [3]. As your chromatic contrast sensitivity decreases, colors look less vivid and the world around you looks a bit blurrier and less clearly defined. Think of it like watching a standard definition TV instead of a high definition TV.  Rather than being able to see every piece of stubble on a superhero’s chin like you could on a high definition TV, you can just barely tell that he has a 5 o’clock shadow.

Decreases in contrast sensitivity can happen for a lot of reasons. Contrast sensitivity tends to worsen naturally with age [4]. Excessive exposure to blue light from LED bulbs and digital devices like smartphones, tablets, computer screens and TVs can also negatively impact contrast sensitivity [5]. Worsening contrast sensitivity can even be a sign of more serious eye issues like cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy [4;6]. That’s why if you notice a change in your eyesight, you should head to your eye doctor to get your contrast sensitivity tested.

Doctors will typically use a Pelli Robson contrast sensitivity chart, which contains letters that are dark in color at the top and gradually get lighter in color toward the bottom. The lighter the letters get, the less they contrast with the white background, which means people with low contrast sensitivity have a harder time seeing them [7].

If you do struggle with low contrast sensitivity, it can negatively impact your life in several ways. It can make you uncomfortable driving at night. It can also put you at risk for injury, because it makes it harder to see things like curbs and steps, which increases your chances of falling [7].

Luckily, it is possible to improve contrast sensitivity. Doctors used to believe that once your contrast sensitivity worsened there was no going back, but recent research has proven otherwise [6]. In fact, a 2009 study found that playing video games, of all things, can improve your contrast sensitivity [8].

Research also shows that antioxidants like lutein, meso-zeaxanthin and zeaxanthin can support healthy contrast sensitivity [9; 10; 11]. That’s because these antioxidants are used to make something called macular pigment [12]. Macular pigment is a collection of carotenoids found in your retina [12]. It shields your retina from the harmful effects of blue light, which is why healthy macular pigment levels are associated with better overall eye health and contrast sensitivity [12].

Your body can’t produce the antioxidants used to create macular pigment on its own [13]. So, to make sure your macular pigment is plentiful, you need to supply your body with enough lutein, meso-zeaxanthin and zeaxanthin. Supplements are a great way to do that.  If you’d like to support your eyes with a carotenoid supplement, consider trying Lumi Shield, a liquid supplement that contains meso-zeaxanthin, lutein and zeaxanthin in the perfect, scientifically-backed ratio of 10:10:2.

If you’re looking for a quick fix for low contrast sensitivity, changing your eyeglass prescription can help counteract the loss of contrast sensitivity some too, and so can wearing yellow-tinted lenses in low light situations [6].

Contrast sensitivity plays an important role in healthy vision, so do what you can to improve or maintain your contrast sensitivity. That way you can continue to see the world the way it was meant to be seen—in vibrant color and high definition detail.


[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2932653/

[2] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaophthalmology/article-abstract/2678792?redirect=true

[3] https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-3-642-27851-8_17-1

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5384124

[5] http://www.pointsdevue.com/article/blue-light-scientific-evidence-patient-care

[6] https://www.aoa.org/Documents/optometric-staff/Articles/Contrast-Sensitivity.pdf

[7] http://www.allaboutvision.com/eye-exam/contrast-sensitivity.htm

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2921999/

[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26720458

[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28425969

[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27367585

[12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3725486/

[13] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3705341/