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Retinitis pigmentosa, or RP, is an inherited eye condition that causes damage to the light sensitive cells in the retina. Nearly half a million people in the United States suffer from retinitis pigmentosa and related retinal diseases. RP is a progressive condition that produces gradual vision loss. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this disease.
What is retinitis pigmentosa?
Retinitis pigmentosa is a hereditary condition that leads to progressive deterioration of the retina. RP damages the cones and rods of the retina; the cones are responsible for providing clear, crisp central vision and the rods are responsible for providing clear peripheral vision and night vision. The symptoms associated with RP tend to emerge during childhood and adolescence. Damage to the retina gets worse over time, and eventually will cause blindness.
Symptoms of retinitis pigmentosa
The first symptom of retinitis pigmentosa is usually a loss of night vision. Later, the field of vision will begin to narrow, causing tunnel vision. These symptoms will start to emerge between the ages of 10 and 30 years old.
The progression of retinitis pigmentosa varies from patient to patient. Most people with RP will become legally blind by the time they reach middle age.
Causes of retinitis pigmentosa
Retinitis pigmentosa is caused by a genetic mutation that results in a breakdown of photoreceptor cells in the retina. As cells are destroyed, they build up and begin to interfere with the function of the retina. RP tends to damage the photosensitive rod cells first, leading to difficulty with night vision. About one percent of the population is considered a carrier for the gene that causes retinitis pigmentosa.
Treatment of retinitis pigmentosa
There is very little that doctors can do to help people with retinitis pigmentosa. Protecting the eyes from UV light can help to preserve vision. Low vision aids are also available to help deal with the effects of the condition.
Currently, research is being conducted into gene therapy and transplants as possible treatment options.