Retinitis Pigmentosa

Retinitis pigmentosa is the name given to a group of hereditary eye disorders. All of them involve the retina, the light-sensitive tissue that lines the back of the eye. These disorders cause a gradual worsening of vision over time.

What causes retinitis pigmentosa?

Retinitis pigmentosa is caused by a variety of inherited retinal defects. All these affect the ability of the retina to sense light. The retinal defect may be found in the rod cells (a type of retinal cell found outside of the central portion of the retina that helps to transmit dim light and allows peripheral vision), the cone cells (a type of retinal cell found inside the center of the retina that helps to transmit color and detail) or the connections between cells that make up the retina.

What are the symptoms of retinitis pigmentosa?

The following are the most common symptoms of retinitis pigmentosa. Each person will experience symptoms differently. Some people with retinitis pigmentosa have slow, gradual loss of vision, while others lose their sight more quickly.

  • Difficulty seeing in poor light (i.e., at dusk or in a dimly lit area) or in the dark
  • A diminished visual field, either central vision (a condition called macular dystrophy) or peripheral vision (sometimes referred to as tunnel vision).
  • Difficulty reading print (with a loss of central vision).
  • Difficulty deciphering detailed images (with a loss of central vision).
  • Difficulty with stumbling or tripping over objects; clumsiness (with a loss of peripheral vision).
  • Glare

The symptoms of retinitis pigmentosa may resemble other eye diseases. Consult a doctor for diagnosis.

How is retinitis pigmentosa diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and eye examination, your doctor may perform one or more of the following tests to determine how much of the retina is diseased:

Visual Acuity Test

The common eye chart test, which measures vision ability at various distances.


A doctor performs a detailed examination of the retina using a special magnifying glass.

Treatment for Retinitis Pigmentosa

Specific treatment will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health and medical history
  • Extent of the disease
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the disease
  • Your opinion or preference

To date, there is no specific treatment for retinitis pigmentosa. However, protecting the retina with UV sunglasses may help delay the onset of symptoms. Talk with your doctor for more information.