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Retinitis Pigmentosa

What is retinitis pigmentosa?

Retinitis pigmentosa is the name of a group of eye diseases that are passed down in families. All of them affect the retina. The retina is the nerve layer that lines the back of the eye. It is sensitive to light. All of the diseases cause a slow but sure decline in eyesight.

What causes retinitis pigmentosa?

Retinitis pigmentosa affects the ability of cells in the retina to sense light. Over time, the cells break down and die. The problem with the retina can take place in any of the following:

  • Rod cells

  • Cone cells

  • The link between the cells that make up the retina

What are the symptoms of retinitis pigmentosa?

The symptoms of retinitis pigmentosa often begin in childhood or the teen years. But symptoms can be a bit different for each person. Some people with the disease have a slow, very progressive loss of eyesight. Others lose their eyesight much more quickly and severely. Common symptoms may include:

  • Hard time seeing in poor lighting or in the dark

  • A reduced ability to see either central vision or side (peripheral) vision

  • Hard time reading print

  • Hard time figuring out detailed images

  • Hard time with stumbling or tripping over objects not seen

  • Glare

The symptoms of the condition may look like other eye diseases. Talk with your eye healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is retinitis pigmentosa diagnosed?

Your eye healthcare provider will take a full health history and give you an eye exam. The eye healthcare provider may do one or more of the following tests to make a diagnosis:

  • Eye chart test

  • Refraction test, to see if you need glasses

  • Color vision test

  • Retinal exam

  • Eye ultrasound

How is retinitis pigmentosa treated?

Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

The symptoms of retinitis pigmentosa sometimes look like other conditions or health problems. Always see your eye healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

There is no specific treatment. But protecting your retina by using UV sunglasses may help delay the start of symptoms. An artificial retina (retinal prosthesis) has been developed for people with very advanced disease and severe vision loss. Talk with your eye healthcare provider for more information.

What are possible complications of retinitis pigmentosa?

Retinitis pigmentosa causes a progressive loss of eyesight. It may happen slowly or more quickly.

Living with retinitis pigmentosa

This is a progressive condition. This means that it will continue to get worse over time. Talk with your eye healthcare provider to get information on services and devices for people with low vision.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

If your symptoms get worse or you have new symptoms, call your eye healthcare provider.

Key points about retinitis pigmentosa

  • Retinitis pigmentosa is a group of eye disorders that are inherited and affect the retina.

  • All of these disorders cause a slow but sure decline in eyesight.

  • Symptoms, including loss of vision or visual sharpness, often begin in childhood or the teen years.

  • There is no specific treatment. An artificial retina (retinal prosthesis) is now available for people with very advanced disease and severe vision loss.

  • The use of UV sunglasses may help delay the start of symptoms.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.

  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.

  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.

  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.

  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.

  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.

  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.

  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.

  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.

Online Medical Reviewer: Chris Haupert MD
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2018
© 2000-2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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