What Causes Blindness At Birth? Popular Questions

written by

Imagine a new baby entering the world, full of potential and promise. But sometimes, these little ones face a challenge – they are born unable to see. Why are people born blind? What causes blindness in newborns? Are there various types of blindness that can be present from birth? Let’s explore the reasons behind newborns having trouble with their eyesight from the very start. We’ll uncover the different ways babies can be born blind and try to understand the reasons behind these challenges. Join us on this journey to unravel the mysteries of why some newborns don’t get the gift of sight when they first open their eyes.

What is congenital blindness?

Congenital blindness, also known as blindness present at birth, is sometimes used interchangeably with the term “Childhood Blindness,” but current literature provides various definitions for both. Childhood blindness encompasses several diseases and conditions affecting individuals up to 16 years old, leading to permanent blindness or severe visual impairment over time. This condition, often hereditary, can be addressed through gene therapy. Visual loss in children or infants can occur either during the prenatal stage (conception or intrauterine period) or the postnatal stage (immediately after birth). The causes of congenital blindness are diverse, with approximately 60% originating from the prenatal stage and 40% from inherited diseases. Fortunately, many cases of congenital blindness can be avoidable or preventable with early treatment.


From the moment your child enters the world, staying vigilant for signs of blindness is essential. Collaborating with an eye doctor is a recommended approach, as they can assess how your child’s eyes function both together and independently. Observing their response to light is also crucial, as an abnormal reaction may signal a potential vision issue.

Keep an eye out for these common symptoms of blindness in babies and children:

  1. Discolored pupils
  2. Issues with eye movement
  3. Light sensitivity
  4. Red eyes
  5. Frequent eye-touching

It’s important to note that these symptoms may not necessarily indicate impending blindness. In the early stages of life, a child’s eyes undergo developmental changes. If you observe any of these symptoms occurring more frequently than usual, seeking guidance from an Independent Doctor of Optometry in your local area is advisable.

What causes babies to be born blind

Vitamin A Deficiency

Vitamin A deficiency stands as the primary cause of preventable childhood blindness, affecting an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 cases annually. Vital for nourishing and safeguarding the cornea, the absence of vitamin A renders the cornea susceptible to injuries and scarring, leading to blindness. Measles often results in vitamin A deficiency, emphasizing the critical role of effective vaccination programs in reducing both the illness and related corneal issues. In communities with inadequate diets, cost-effective vitamin A supplementation, administered twice a year starting at six months old, proves instrumental in preventing childhood blindness.


Cataracts, clouding the eye lens, impact vision, with aging being a common cause, but some infants and children also develop them. Causes in young people range from genetic predisposition and infections like rubella to diabetes, injury, and rare parasitic infections. Early-life cataracts interfere with the crucial visual connections forming in a baby’s brain, leading to amblyopia or lazy eye. Prompt removal of cataracts in young individuals, often through surgery under general anesthesia, is essential to prevent permanent blindness. Restoration of focusing power post-surgery includes options such as contact lenses, artificial lenses, or glasses.

Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP)

ROP involves unwanted blood vessel growth on a baby’s retina, potentially causing permanent visual impairment. Approximately 1,100 to 1,500 infants in the US annually develop serious ROP, with 400-600 facing legal blindness, emphasizing the significance of early intervention. Risk factors include low birth weight, immediate post-birth oxygen exposure, premature birth with additional complications, and being Caucasian. Laser surgery, freezing treatment, and medication are available treatments for ROP, inhibiting abnormal blood vessel growth and preserving central sight. Understanding and addressing these conditions are crucial steps in combating childhood blindness and ensuring a brighter future for young individuals worldwide.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

AMD is a prevalent eye disease linked to aging, specifically affecting the macula responsible for sharp, central vision. Recognized as the primary cause of vision loss and blindness in individuals aged 65 and older in the United States. Genetic factors significantly impact the onset and progression of AMD, with researchers identifying multiple genes associated with the risk of developing the condition. Family history plays a crucial role, as individuals with relatives affected by AMD have a higher likelihood of developing the disease. AMD symptoms encompass central vision blurriness, difficulty seeing in low light, distorted straight lines, faded colors, and visual blank spots.

Blindness At Birth


Can you be born blind? With glaucoma – yes. Glaucoma constitutes a group of progressive eye diseases causing damage to the optic nerve, leading to vision loss and irreversible blindness. Affects approximately 2.7 million people in the United States, standing as the second leading cause of irreversible blindness. While many individuals with glaucoma lack a family history of the condition, research suggests a potential genetic link, with around 50% of those with primary open-angle glaucoma having affected family members. Glaucoma symptoms vary in type and severity, including patchy blind spots, difficulty seeing in front, severe eye pain, headaches, blurry vision, halos around lights, and a dull, cloudy eye. Although treatment cannot reverse glaucoma-related damage, it plays a crucial role in preventing or minimizing further vision loss.


Amblyopia, commonly known as “lazy eye,” unfolds when the intricate dance between the brain and one eye loses its rhythm, leading to an unacknowledged visual neglect from the affected eye. Primarily affecting one eye, this condition, if left untreated, poses a risk of irreversible vision loss. This visual puzzle typically emerges in early childhood, impacting around 3 in every 100 children, with familial ties playing a role. Symptoms include impaired depth perception, subtle squinting, occasional eye closure, and head tilting tendencies. Often unnoticed by parents, Amblyopia reveals itself during comprehensive eye examinations, emphasizing the need for proactive screening in children aged 3 to 5. Through this awareness-driven approach, we unravel the mysteries of Amblyopia, ensuring timely interventions and safeguarding childhood vision.

Anophthalmia and microphthalmia

Anophthalmia and microphthalmia are congenital eye defects where a baby is blind in one eye from birth, born without one or both eyes, or with underdeveloped and small eyes, respectively. These conditions, which often lead to blindness or limited vision, manifest during pregnancy and may occur independently, alongside other birth defects, or as part of a syndrome.

The exact causes of anophthalmia and microphthalmia in most infants remain unknown. Some cases are associated with genetic or chromosomal changes, while exposure to certain medications during pregnancy, such as isotretinoin or thalidomide, can contribute to these defects. The occurrence may result from a complex interplay of genetic, environmental, and maternal factors.

Researchers estimate that approximately 1 in every 5,200 babies in the United States is born with anophthalmia or microphthalmia. Anophthalmia and microphthalmia can be diagnosed during pregnancy through procedures like ultrasound, CT scans, and genetic testing. Post-birth, doctors conduct a comprehensive examination to identify these conditions and assess the presence of any associated birth defects.


Blindness At Birth

The treatability of blindness hinges on its underlying cause, with surgical interventions being an option for certain conditions like primary congenital glaucoma. A 2020 review shed light on surgical techniques, revealing nuances between procedures like combined trabeculotomy and trabeculectomy (CTT), visco-trabeculotomy, and conventional trabeculotomy. Notably, the 360-degree circumferential trabeculotomy exhibited potential superiority, but further research with extended follow-up is imperative.

For visually impaired infants, intervention during the critical developmental phase is crucial, as binocular single vision forms by 6 months. Failure to detect and address visual deficits during this window risks leaving the child without stereopsis. Amblyopia resulting from early visual deprivation, regardless of the cause, can be challenging to treat.

Creating a network of awareness, education, and early intervention is pivotal. Pediatricians, general practitioners, and midwives should be adept at conducting the red reflex test with direct ophthalmoscopes. Sensitizing all healthcare personnel to infant eye conditions and the causes of childhood blindness is essential, emphasizing early detection and intervention. In-depth training for midwives, traditional birth attendants, and healthcare workers involved in child health and immunization can significantly contribute to the early identification of children at risk.

Understanding the Causes of Blindness in Newborns

In conclusion, the causes of blindness in newborns are complex and varied. From genetic factors to environmental influences, several factors can contribute to babies being born blind. Understanding these causes is crucial for providing appropriate care and support to both the babies and their families. By delving into the types of blindness from birth and exploring why some individuals are born blind, we can work towards better solutions and support systems for those affected by this condition from the very start of their lives.

What is the primary cause of blindness from birth?

Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is a vascular disease that impacts the developing retina and stands as a prominent cause of childhood blindness globally.

Is there a cure for blindness at birth?

Presently, there is no definitive cure for blindness, but certain treatments can provide assistance based on the specific cause and progression of vision loss. Ongoing developments in gene and stem cell therapies offer promising prospects. Prevention remains the optimal approach for many causes of blindness.

Do individuals blind from birth have any vision?

The level of vision in individuals blind from birth varies. Some may perceive only light, while others may discern blurry shapes, figures, or colors.