Symptoms of retinitis pigmentosa

Symptoms of retinitis pigmentosa

01 December 2022

Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is a group of rare eye diseases that affect the retina (the light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the eye). Retinitis pigmentosa causes the cells of the retina to slowly break down over time, leading to loss of night vision.

RP is a genetic disease that you are born with. Symptoms usually begin in childhood and most people eventually lose most of their sight.

The most common early symptom of RP is night vision loss, which usually begins in infancy. Parents may notice that children with RP have trouble moving in the dark or adjusting to dim light.

RP also causes loss of side (peripheral) vision, resulting in difficulty seeing objects out of the corners of the eyes. Over time, the field of vision narrows until only some central vision (also called tunnel vision) is present.

Other symptoms of RP include:

  • Sensitivity to bright light.
  • Loss of color vision

Most of the time, retinitis pigmentosa is caused by changes in the genes that control the cells of the retina. These changed genes are passed down through families.

Sometimes RP is part of other genetic diseases, such as Usher syndrome, which causes both vision and hearing loss.

Ophthalmologists can test for retinitis pigmentosa as part of a comprehensive dilated eye exam. The exam is simple and painless: the doctor will administer drops to dilate (widen) your pupil, then examine your eyes for RP and other eye problems. The exam includes a visual field test to check your peripheral (side) vision.

Other tests for RP include:

  • Electroretinography (ERG). ERG allows the ophthalmologist to check the retina's response to light.
  • Optical coherence tomography (OCT). This test uses light waves to obtain a detailed image of the retina.
  • Fluorescein angiography. This is an eye test in which a contrast dye and a special camera are used to examine blood flow in the retina and choroid.
  • Genetic testing. Your doctor may suggest genetic testing to learn more about the type of RP you have. This can tell you how your RP symptoms may change over time.

There is no single treatment for retinitis pigmentosa, since there are more than 100 genes that cause it. Scientists are studying why and how this condition runs in families.

As it is a genetic pathology, it cannot be prevented, however it is important to anticipate events and visit the ophthalmologist periodically for early detection, especially if there is a family history.

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