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February 21, 2001

Research: Causes and Prevention

Question from Anglesey, North Wales:

My three year old son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes about nine months ago. He was asphyxiated at birth, which led to poor muscle tone, profound deafness, and many other minor health problems. He tends to suffer from almost any ailment going and therefore is constantly ill. Prior to the diagnosis of diabetes, my son had tonsillitis and was very ill for no apparent reason. It took my doctor four weeks to diagnose the diabetes. No one has been able to clarify why my son got diabetes, and there was even a suggestion that diabetes and deafness were linked. Since my son's diagnosis, three other young children were diagnosed after having had tonsillitis. Because my son was always ill, is his immune system was weaker than other children, making him more susceptible to diabetes? Could the diabetes have been caused by the viral infection he had with the tonsillitis? (There is no history of diabetes, deafness or any of his other problems in my family.) I would appreciate any comments, as there is little help or advice from my local diabetes team.


It is possible that the tonsillitis precipitated your son’s diabetes although it probably wasn’t the cause. It is most likely that he’s just been unlucky and has common type 1A (autoimmune) diabetes caused by his immune system reacting against the cells in his pancreas that make insulin. The possible link with deafness was probably considered because of the association between congenital rubella, deafness and diabetes. However, your son’s problems are (per your statement) due to birth asphyxia so unconnected.