Retinitis Pigmentosa: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment – Healthline

The term retinitis pigmentosa (RP) refers to a category of rare diseases that happen to the retina, a thin layer of tissue at the back of your eye that helps turn light into signals that get sent to your brain. When you have RP, cells in your retina degrade over a long period of time, which can make it harder for you to see.
Most people with RP are born with it, as it’s a genetic condition passed down in families. You may not notice the most obvious symptoms of RP until later in childhood. But the symptoms often become more noticeable with age and result in a significant amount of vision loss over time.
There is currently no cure for RP, but there are many options to help you improve your vision and train yourself to use your vision in a way that accommodates your vision loss. Read on to learn more about this condition’s causes, symptoms, and treatments.
RP doesn’t have a clear cause yet, but it results from mutations or differences in genes that affect the photoreceptor cells in your retina. These cells are responsible for helping you see colors and adjust to low light.
RP damages these cells, which can make it harder for you to see throughout your life. But researchers and doctors aren’t sure exactly what triggers these changes in your genes.
There’s some research that suggests that RP can also result from:
The symptoms of RP typically become noticeable when you’re still young.
While some people with RP may experience a slow symptom progression, RP symptoms can also appear without warning and progress quickly — especially as you get older.
Here are some of the most common symptoms of RP:
Experts currently do not know exactly how many people with RP will experience total blindness over time. But most people with RP will experience some form of partial vision loss, including a loss of night vision, sometimes called night blindness.
People with Usher syndrome can have a much higher risk of vision loss over time as a result of RP. Usher syndrome is another rare condition that can cause vision loss, hearing loss, and trouble with balance.
Nearly 50% of people who are blind and deaf have Usher syndrome. Many people who have type 3 Usher syndrome can become fully blind during their adulthood.
There’s currently no cure for RP. But you can treat the symptoms of RP to help you adjust to your gradual loss of vision or difficulty seeing in different levels of lighting.
Here are some treatments and lifestyle changes you can try to help reduce the impact that RP has on your daily life:
There is currently no cure for RP. But there are some promising clinical trials on the horizon looking closely at the genes that result in RP.
First, talk with a genetic counselor to have them analyze your genome so that you can better understand the mutations in your genes that cause RP. The affected genes influence possible future treatments. The genes that RP can affect include:
Another experimental treatment includes a pair of goggles that provide you with optogenetic therapy — along with an injection, this treatment helps replace the function of your retina in sensing light and seeing contrasts between objects.
RP is a genetic condition passed down in families. It has no clear cause, and medications, infections, or eye injuries trigger it.
Talk with a doctor if you’re concerned that you may be at risk of developing RP or if you notice symptoms of RP, such as vision loss or light sensitivity, that disrupt your daily life.
If you’re a parent who has RP, you may also want to meet with a genetic counselor, who can conduct tests to see if you can pass the genes to your children.
Last medically reviewed on September 13, 2022
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