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Retinitis pigmentosa

Retinitis pigmentosa is a collection of inherited eye disorders where there is damage to the retina. If you have retinitis pigmentosa, there is support and advice available to help you live with the condition.

What is retinitis pigmentosa?

The retina is a layer of tissue on the inside back of your eye. It contains cells that detect light and send signals to the brain. The brain understands these signals as vision – this is how you see.

In people with retinitis pigmentosa, these cells gradually break down, causing a gradual loss of vision. The breakdown of these cells is unpredictable – it can happen slowly in some people and more quickly in others.

Some people may have poor vision throughout their lives while others may completely lose their eyesight.

What causes retinitis pigmentosa?

Retinitis pigmentosa is a genetic disorder, where a genetic change causes the cells in the retina to be damaged. It can run in families, but can also happen to people with no family history of eye troubles.

Retinitis pigmentosa symptoms

Retinitis pigmentosa can come on slowly or quickly. It can come on in children, but it starts more often in young adults. The main problems people notice are:

  • ‘night blindness’ – difficulty seeing at night or in dim light
  • ‘tunnel vision’ – having a narrower field of vision than normal
  • being sensitive to light and glare.

Tunnel vision occurs because cells on the outer edges of the retina usually break down first, resulting in a loss of peripheral vision.

Some people have poor vision for the rest of their lives, while some lose their vision completely.

Retinitis pigmentosa diagnosis

See your doctor or optometrist if you notice any chances in your vision. Your doctor may be refer you to an eye specialist (ophthalmologist) if retinitis pigmenosa is suspected. An ophthalmologist may ask you undergo some eye tests, including tests to check your colour vision, peripheral vision and an examination of the retina to make a diagnosis.

Retinitis pigmentosa treatment

Currently, there is no known cure or standard treatment for retinitis pigmentosa. However, there is ongoing research into stem cell and gene therapy.

If you have retinitis pigmentosa, your doctor may recommend that you wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from ultraviolet light. This might help to preserve your vision.

More information

Vision Australia and Retina Australia can provide support and advice to help people live with low vision.

Last reviewed: August 2016

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Retinitis pigmentosa

The retina is located at the back of the eye. This thin layer of light-sensitive cells sends information on shape, colour, pattern and movement to the brain via the optic nerve. There are special light sensing cells in the retina, called rods and cones (see explanation below).

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