What are sensory impairments?

Multi-ethnic group communicating with sign languageSensory impairment is the common term used to describe:

  • deafness and hearing impairment
  • blindness and visual impairment/sight loss, or
  • deafblindness.

An individual does not have to have full loss of a sense to be considered sensory impaired.

Blindness or visual impairment 

Visual impairment or low vision is a severe reduction in vision that cannot be corrected with standard glasses or contact lenses, and reduces a person’s ability to function at certain or all tasks.

Visual impairment or low vision can be caused by a variety of conditions such as:

  • cataracts
  • diabetes
  • glaucoma
  • genetic defects or an injury
  • macular degeneration
  • visual cortex disorder.

A person can be registered partially sighted or severely sight impaired, ie blind.

Many people who live with sight impairment experience different levels of sight loss. Some people are only able to determine lights or shapes, while others may experience blurred vision.

Sight impairment can cause loss of sight in the centre of the eye or no side vision. It can also cause difficulty seeing at night. It is uncommon for someone to have no vision at all even if the person is registered blind.

Eye strain and headaches are also a common side effect of living with sight impairment.

Deafness and hearing impairment 

If you find it hard to hear or have a hearing aid then you have a hearing impairment.

Causes and symptoms of hearing loss

Hearing loss may be caused by a number of factors, which can include:

  • genetics
  • old age
  • exposure to noise
  • infections
  • birth complications
  • trauma to the ear
  • certain medications or toxins.

Viral infections of the inner ear can cause hearing loss to occur all of a sudden.  Hearing loss can also be gradual. 

Common symptoms of people with gradual hearing loss  include difficulty hearing the TV or hearing a conversation in a noisy environment. People with hearing loss can commonly experience continual ringing in the ear which is caused by conditions such as tinnitus.

Deafblindness or dual sensory impairment

Deafblindness is the loss of sight and hearing to the point where your communication, mobility and ability to access information are impacted. This includes "progressive" sight and hearing loss, where your sight and hearing may deteriorate over a period of time.

Deafblindness is often also referred to as "dual sensory loss" or "dual sensory impairment".

Lots of useful information and advice can be found on the Deafblind UK website.

Living with hearing, sight or dual sensory loss

Hearing

The treatments for hearing loss depend on its cause. The NHS website provides advice and information on the different treatments for hearing loss

Consulting your GP

If you feel that your hearing is getting worse, you should make an appointment with your GP. Find your nearest GP.

Your GP will look in both ears, and may find that the problem that can be corrected at the surgery or may choose to refer you to the local Audiology Department. 

Using hearing aids

Audiology Department

Referals to the Audiology Departement are only through your GP. Audiology may suggest that you try using one or two hearing aids.

Private hearing aids

You should consult your GP before deciding to go for private hearing aids from commercial suppliers. 

Sight loss

Consulting your GP or optician

If you have any concerns about your eye sight, or feel that your sight has deteriorated, you should always consult your GP or an optician.

You may be referred to an eye clinic or ophthalmologist (a specialist in eyes). They examine your eyes and determine if there are any possible treatments for your condition. In a lot of cases your sight could be improved simply by different glasses or cataract surgery.

Find an optician near you.

Guide dogs

If you are blind or partially sighted, a guide dog could help you to be independently mobile when out and about. The charity Guide Dogs provides both dogs to people who are blind or partially sighted, and training on how to use them. Contact them for further advice, telephone  0800 781 1444, email  information@guidedogs.org.uk.

Assistive equipment, technology and home adaptions

There is equipment available to help you manage your sight or hearing loss. This includes assistive technology that can help with using a computer, including the Browsealoud web reader function on this website.

More information can be found on our Community equipment page.

Sight and Hearing Service

The Sight and Hearing Service may be able to help, if you are having difficulties due to a hearing loss, visual loss or a dual sensory loss.