Retinitis Pigmentosa

Thursday, Dec 1, 2022 by Nisha Gupta, MD

This month we will talk about retinitis pigmentosa (RP).

What is retinitis pigmentosa?

Retinitis pigmentosa is a rare group of eye conditions that affect the retina. The cells in the retina break down and cannot properly respond to light. This causes gradual vision loss. RP is genetic and can be linked to other genetic syndromes. For example, Usher syndrome also causes loss of hearing. RP can be caused by infections or medications, but these causes are very rare. Treatments can help but there is no cure for this disease.

What are the symptoms?

The most common and earliest symptom is loss of night vision. It can be hard to focus and adjust to darker spaces. Over time, peripheral vision is lost, but the rate varies from person to person. Some patients experience light sensitivity and loss of color vision.

How is it detected?

A comprehensive exam including checking the vision and dilating the eyes to view the retina are imperative. A visual field test can be done to look for peripheral vision changes. Electroretinography (ERG) checks how the retina responds to light. Optical coherence tomography, OCT, is a photo that shows if there is swelling in the layers of the macula.

The following photo shows an advanced case of RP. There are pigmented areas throughout the retina called bone spicules (white arrows).


Image Source 1

What are the treatments?

There is no cure for RP. Genetic testing can be done to learn what type of RP is affecting the eye. There are low vision specialists who can provide resources such as magnifiers to help with the vision. Vitamin A can help slow the vision loss. However, too much can cause damage to the body so it must be taken carefully. Other vitamins may help including lutein and omega 3. Some people with severe cases of RP may be able to get an artificial retina implant. Currently research is being done to find other treatment options for the disease.

Return next month for a discussion on a new topic!

  1. Image courtesy of Nisha Gupta, MD [return]

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