Low Vision Disease Spotlight: Retinitis Pigmentosa

This week we are spotlighting retinitis pigmentosa (RP), which is an inherited, progressive deterioration of the retina. Unlike many low vision diseases, RP is rare with only 100,000 Americans currently suffering from the condition.

Although the name suggests that RP is a single disease, it is actually classified as a group of diseases that gradually damage the light-sensing cells in the back of the eye. These cells – or “rods” – are responsible for seeing in dimly-lit environments and play a critical role in night vision. For individuals with RP, nighttime activities like driving can be extremely difficult.

RP is characterized by the gradual loss of central vision. Often times, individuals with RP will also experience deterioration of peripheral vision and in some cases, blindness.

While RP can occur at any stage in life, it is most commonly seen in young adulthood.

Signs and Symptoms of RP:

  • Poor night vision – which can be evident even in early childhood
  • Deterioration of color vision or inability to distinguish colors

Unfortunately, there is no cure for RP, however, several devices and treatment options are currently being researched and tested. Advancements in technology, like the retinal prosthesis system, allow eyeglasses with tiny video cameras to transmit electronic signals into healthy retina cells. Through this system, visual information is sent from the optic nerve to the brain and interpreted as objects or outlines.

Individuals with RP can also use low vision devices like handheld magnifiers and small reading lamps to complete various daily living tasks. Occupational therapy may also be beneficial for those learning how to adjust to life with a low vision disease.

If you’ve experienced any of the signs and symptoms noted above, or have a family history of RP, ask your eye doctor for a visual field test. Tests can help determine the presence of any disease and the extent of damage, including loss of night or color vision.


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