Retinitis pigmentosa

Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is estimated to affect one in 4,000 people and it’s the most common inherited cause of sight loss in the UK. It’s also the most frequently seen eye condition among our guide dog owners. 


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What is retinitis pigmentosa?

Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) causes the light-receptive cells of the retina to degenerate, affecting peripheral vision. Someone with RP may have difficulty adapting to changes in light conditions such as navigating at night time or seeing outdoors in very bright sunlight.

RP is a collective name given to a group of progressive conditions that are often inherited (genetically from parents) and congenital (occur from birth or soon after). Each condition involves gene mutations that cause the light-receptive cells (rods and cones) of the retina to degenerate.

Symptoms

The rod cells are commonly the first cells in the retina to be affected and as these cells are more concentrated in the periphery of the retina, your peripheral vision, which is all round the outer edge, is usually the first to be impacted. RP is a progressive condition, which means your peripheral vision will continue to deteriorate over time and it can also affect the cone cells that provide central vision.

The healthiness of the retinal pigment epithelium for someone with retinitis pigmentosa will also be compromised. The retinal pigment epithelium nourishes the retina, acts as a barrier and lets healthy light sensitive molecules pass through whilst getting rid of dead or damaged cells.

Practical implications

The impact of RP on your day to day life will depend on your particular condition and how far it’s progressed. You’re likely to struggle with adapting to changes in light conditions, which can include difficulty seeing at dusk and night-time (known as night-blindness). Your vision may take some time to adapt to sudden changes in lighting, for example if you’re moving from indoors to outdoors. Glare from bright light may also cause you discomfort.

You may have difficulty with:

  • Navigating safely at dusk, night-time or on very dull winter days
  • Seeing outdoors in very bright sunlight
  • Being dazzled by bright reflections on wet roads or reflective buildings
  • Moving around outside and avoiding street obstacles and hazards
  • Locating kerbs, steps and using stairs (if you have lower peripheral vision loss)
  • Moving around inside, avoiding furniture and people in busy places

If your central vision and ability to see detail are affected, you might have difficulty with tasks such as:

  • Pouring a drink
  • Food preparation such as chopping 
  • Personal care, for example shaving or putting on make-up
  • Selecting the right items when shopping, for example distinguishing the tins you want in a supermarket
A picture of a man using a magnifying glass to read a bottle

Find strategies that work for you 

Our series of helpful hints and tips will help you maintain your independence while learning new skills and strategies.

Find out more about symptoms, diagnosis and treatment on the RNIB website.

Retina UK also has some useful information.