Causes of deafblindness 

There are more than 70 different causes of deafblindness.

The condition can either be present at birth (congenital) or develop later in life (acquired). 

Congenital deafblindness

In the past, rubella (German measles) was the leading cause of congenital deafblindness. Rubella is a highly infectious virus that can seriously damage a pregnant woman's unborn baby. In particular, the baby's eyes, ears and heart can be damaged.

However, since routine rubella vaccinations were introduced in 1988, and due to the success of the MMR vaccine, the number of babies affected by rubella has decreased significantly.

Problems associated with premature birth are now a more common cause of deafblindness. Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are both major risk factors for premature birth, so you should avoid both if you're pregnant.

Acquired deafblindness

Acquired deafblindness is where a person is born without a hearing or sight impairment and then later loses both senses. Alternatively, someone may be born with a single sensory impairment before losing part or all of their other sense.

Acquired deafblindness can be the result of age, illness or injury.

Sometimes, a child who is born deaf can gradually begin to lose their sight. This can be caused by a condition called Usher syndrome, where the retina (the light-sensitive layer of cells that line the back of the eye) gradually deteriorates.

As you get older, your hearing will often start to deteriorate as the cells inside your ear become damaged and are unable to repair themselves.

A similar process can also happen with your sight. Over time, it can gradually deteriorate as the cells at the centre of the retina start to break down. This process is often referred to as age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

There are also a number of other eye conditions that can cause sight loss if they're not identified and treated at an early stage. Some of the more common ones include:

  • cataracts – where cloudy patches develop in the lens of the eye, making your vision misty or blurred; cataracts can usually be removed with cataract surgery
  • glaucoma – where the tiny drainage tubes in your eye become blocked, causing pressure to build-up inside the eye that can damage the optic nerve (the nerve that transmits images from your eye to your brain)
  • retinopathy – a number of eye disorders that damage the tiny blood vessels of the retina; diabetic retinopathy is a common complication of diabetes where the cells of the retina are damaged by high blood sugar levels

Page last reviewed: 08/01/2014

Next review due: 08/01/2016