The retina lies in the back of the eye and is a multi-layered tissue which detects visual images and transmits them to the brain. Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) refers to a group of related diseases which tend to run in families and cause slow but progressive loss of vision. In retinitis pigmentosa, there is gradual destruction of some of the nervous sensors in the retina.
The first symptoms usually occur in youth or young adulthood, although it may be first seen at any age. Retinitis pigmentosa causes night blindness and loss of side vision. In normal persons, the visual system adjusts to darkness after a short period of time. People with night blindness adjust to darkness very slowly, or not at all. Due to the loss of side vision (peripheral vision) in patients with retinitis pigmentosa, mobility becomes more difficult.
Most forms of retinitis pigmentosa are inherited. Different patterns of heredity are associated with different degrees of progression. An attempt to know more about how severely the disease has affected other family members may help predict how a specific person might ultimately be afflicted, though variability exists within each family. Such knowledge is also helpful in making decisions about such things as marriage, family and occupation.
In general, there is no specific treatment. Recent research suggests that some patients may benefit from certain kinds of vitamin therapy. But these studies are not conclusive. Much research is directed toward solving this problem. Periodic examinations by an eye doctor are advised.
It is important to keep in mind that patients with retinitis pigmentosa may develop other treatable disease, such as glaucoman or cataracts. Low vision aids may be prescribed. In some cases, retinitis pigmentosa may be associated with other disease processes which might need evaluation by other medical specialists.
Despite visual impairment, the many rehabilitative services that are available today allow patients with retinitis pigmentosa to live meaningful and rewarding lives.