What is Retinitis Pigmentosa?

Normal vision vs vision with retinitis pigmentosa

What is Retinitis Pigmentosa?

Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) falls into a group of rare, genetic disorders that involve a breakdown and loss of cells inside of the retina; the light sensitive membrane that lines the back of the eye.

The first signs of RP usually occur in early childhood and both eyes are usually affected. Night vision can become poor, and peripheral vision begins to narrow.

At the onset of this disease, the light-sensing cells that are responsible for vision in dim light (rods) gradually deteriorate and seeing at night becomes more difficult.

In later stages of RP, only a small area of central vision remains, along with some slight peripheral vision.

The progression of Retinitis Pigmentosa is very hard to predict. The vision loss itself and how fast it will progress varies by individual. Your eye care professional will monitor the health of your retinal cells, administer tests to determine how well you can see and monitor the progression.

You may be advised at some point during the advancement of the disease to drive only during the daytime or on well-lighted streets at night. Eventually you may be unable to see well enough to drive at all.

What Causes Retinitis Pigmentosa?

RP is not viewed as a single disease but as a group of diseases affecting how light-sensitive cells in the back of the eye function. Not much is known about its causes, except that the disease is inherited.

There are at least 32 different genes associated with this eye condition. The genes control traits that are passed along in a number of different ways. In many instances, the genetic trait is dominant and likely to be passed along to a child when a parent has RP and sometimes, the trait for Retinitis Pigmentosa is recessive and may be present for many generations before it appears in a family member.

What this means is that, even if your mother and father do not have Retinitis Pigmentosa, you can still have the eye disease if at least one parent carries an altered gene associated with the trait. Approximately, one percent of the world's population is considered carriers of genetic tendencies for RP.

Retinitis Pigmentosa occurs in about 1 of every 4,000 people in the United States. If the trait is dominant, it is more likely to appear when one reaches their 40's. When the trait is recessive, it tends to first appear when people are in their 20's.

Currently there is no cure for RP, but several companies are developing retinal implants. Additionally, other innovative treatments are showing promise in providing or preserving some degree of usable sight for people affected by this disease. Technological and medical advances offer much hope for the future treatment of this disease. Please check an interesting research published on Experimental Eye Research.

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