Retinitis Pigmentosa

What is Retinitis Pigmentosa?

Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) refers to a group of diseases which tend to run in families and cause slow, but progressive loss of vision. The retina is the tissue which lines the inside of the eye and sends visual images to the brain. In RP, there is gradual destruction of some of the light sensing cells in the retina.

Causes and Symptoms

The cause of retinitis pigmentosa has not been clearly identified. About fifty percent of RP cases are sporadic with the remaining cases being hereditary. Learning more about the history of people with RP may help predict how the disease will progress for the affected person, although variations can exist even from person to person within a family.

The first symptoms usually start during young adulthood, although it may be seen first at any age. The two most common symptoms are night blindness (where adjusting to the dark happens very slowly) and the loss of side vision. Loss of side or peripheral vision makes mobility very difficult. Once this occurs, a person is left with only central vision (as if looking down a tunnel).

Treatment

While developments are on the horizon--particularly in the area of genetic research--as yet, there is no cure for retinitis pigmentosa. The retina is attached to the optic nerve and transplants are not yet an option.

Unfortunately, there is no scientific evidence to demonstrate benefits from any treatment methods--including vitamin supplements--currently available.

One controversial treatment, currently available in Cuba, consists of a combination of ozone therapy (removing a small amount of blood from the eye, adding ozone, and replacing it a short while later), electrical stimulation, dietary supplements and so-called "oligoelements", and eye surgery under a local anesthetic. The rationale behind these procedures is to improve the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the affected parts of the eye.

As yet, this procedure has not been subject to critical review and, as such, remains outside the medical mainstream. The Cuban clinic where it has been performed has repeatedly refused to show the procedure to anyone outside of the clinic. As such, critical review is very difficult. There have been reports of physical damage to some patients including detached retinas, crossed eyes, and sensitivity to light.

Because of this, the RP Research Foundation in Canada and the RP Foundation Fighting Blindness in the U.S. have called the procedure into question.

For the latest treatments, please see your ophthalmologist.

Research

Most progress has come in the area of molecular genetics which begins with the identification of the genes responsible for the condition. Despite the fact that the first breakthrough came only five years ago, to date literally hundreds of mutations have been identified in the genes that cause RP.

For more information, you can contact the RP Research Foundation in Canada at the address below.

RP Research Foundation
The Foundation Fighting Blindness
890 Yonge St. 12th floor
Toronto, ON M4W 3P4
Tel: 1.800.461.3331 or 416.360.4200
Web: www.ffb.ca
Fax: 416.360.0060

© Copyright by the Canadian Ophthalmological Society

Back to top of page