While dealing with a visual complication as sensitive and challenging as Retinitis Pigmentosa, you may find yourself on confusing grounds, unsure of the answers to your queries. Yet it is every bit as essential to take due notice and be concerned about every little aspect, slight itches and allergic reactions you may get, and subsequently take appropriate action to make a tentative diagnosis and ensure timely treatment for it. We have listed down some of the most frequently asked questions and concerns you may have about Retinitis Pigmentosa.
1: What is Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP)?
Retinitis Pigmentosa is an umbrella term for a genetic disorder which leads to a gradual loss of sight, causing a deterioration of night vision and peripheral vision. Retinitis Pigmentosa occurs due to progressive damage to the retina – photosensitive cells – of the eye. It begins with damage to the rod cells ,cells that are responsible for vision in darkness, and subsequently damage to cone cells, cells that are responsible for color vision and acuity.
2: What causes you to get Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP)?
Retinitis Pigmentosa is caused due to a genetic anomaly and it is an inherited disease which results from gene mutation in any one of or more than 50 genes. Although external factors may determine and affect the rate of progress of disease, however, these do NOT cause it. According to research, different forms of gene mutations lead to faulty functioning of the photoreceptor cells of the eye, which in turn leads to the progressive deterioration of the retinal cells.
3: Can Retinitis Pigmentosa be passed down through heredity?
Yes, Retinitis Pigmentosa can be passed down from parents to their offspring. If either of the parents has a dominant gene for this disease, they have a 1 in 2 chance of passing it down to their child, whereas if both parent individuals carry the recessive gene for RP, they have a 1 in 4 chance of passing it down to their offspring.
4: Can Retinitis Pigmentosa be caused by injury or accident?
No, RP cannot be caused by any accidental injuries or other nutritional deficits. It is a genetic disorder which occurs only due to inheritance from one’s family.
5: What are the symptoms of Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP)?
The symptoms for Retinitis Pigmentosa can be identified in a child as young as aged 10, and although the pattern and progressive intensity of this disease is different among individuals, it typically appears in the form of the following symptoms:
1: Reduced night vision
2: Blurred and smudged vision
3: Vague Color Differentiation
4: Tunnel Vision
5: Photophobia (greater visual sensitivity and experiencing discomfort/ pain when exposed to bright lights)
6: How can Retinitis Pigmentosa be diagnosed?
Aside from a tentative self-diagnosis through manifestation of typical symptoms, a formal diagnosis can only be done by an ophthalmologist on cross-confirmation from a combination of tests.
It consists of a relatively simple and common diagnostic technique which is a visual field test. It is carried out for mapping and identifying bounds of accurate visual ability of a patient and to give a tentative diagnosis for RP. The patient is shown a number of objects or lights appearing in his visual field and is required to identify the ones he can see clearly while maintaining focus at a single fixed point.
In addition to that, Optical srrtomography is done to obtain a detailed retinal imagery of the eye, indicating the extent and progression of retinal damage.
For final confirmation of pathological features of RP, Electroretinography (ERG) is also carried out in addition to the mentioned tests. ERG is done by applying an electrode lens to the patients’ eye and measuring retinal response to light flashes. Its purpose is to identify the functional abnormalities present in retina before even the symptomatic manifestation.
Another diagnostic method is the genetic test, which requires DNA sample of an individual, for identification of the type of RP he/she may be having, given that the disease is already present in the family history.
7: How does Retinitis Pigmentosa affect vision?
Retinitis Pigmentosa affects the vision in three main ways:
1: Causes night blindness.
2: Causes tunnel vision
3: Vague color differentiation and acuit
8: Can Retinitis Pigmentosa cause complete blindness?
No, RP rarely causes complete blindness, rather most of the people suffering from it retain some part of their central vision even after progressive deterioration of the disease over a longer time-span.
9: Can we stop Retinitis Pigmentosa from progressing?
The progress of Retinitis Pigmentosa cannot altogether be stopped, however as mentioned earlier, it can certainly be slowed down by carefully incorporating preventive measures:
- adopting a healthier lifestyle (exercising, quit smoking, eating healthy etc)
- consuming a specific nutritive diet
- eye exercises to utilize and retain the eyes’ existing abilities at best
- taking extra care for the protection of eyes during various activities
- using low vision aids such as IrisVision
- avoiding direct exposure to sunlight
10: Can Retinitis Pigmentosa be reversed?
No, Retinitis Pigmentosa is such a condition which cannot be reversed, however, its progress can be slowed down from further progression by taking preventive measures for management.
11: Can sunlight exposure worsen vision of people with Retinitis Pigmentosa?
Yes, exposure to sunlight can be harmful for people with RP, and not just the summer sun but that in any season. The ultraviolet rays that the sun gives off are of two types i.e. UV-A and UV-B rays, both of which cause damage to the eyes over a longer time-span.
The UV-A rays are capable of inflicting damage to the macula – a part of the retina – which can be especially harmful for people with RP as it contributes in speeding up the deterioration of the retinal cells.
Thus, it is highly recommended that such patients should wear sunshades and broad-brimmed hats when going out and take extra care to avoid bright reflective lights in order to keep their visual condition from progressing.
12: Can I treat Retinitis Pigmentosa by nutritional care?
No, Retinitis Pigmentosa cannot be permanently treated through nutritional care but it can certainly be managed as well as slowed down by taking a diet rich in eye-friendly nutrients such as:
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin A
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Lutein and Zeaxanthin
- Fiber-rich foods
13: Is Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) treatable?
There is no known cause for Retinitis Pigmentosa, however physicians have suggested some forms of treatment that could help slow down the progress of RP.
Some studies have found that a daily intake of Vitamin A palmitate (15000 IU) decreased the progression of RP in some patients owing to the beneficial characteristics of Vitamin-A, however, it demands vigilant administration as an excessive intake of Vitamin-A could also be toxic. This is not yet a widely practiced treatment due to lack of experimental support.
The Argus retinal prosthesis is a surgical treatment which involves electronic sub-retinal implant in place of the damaged retina of the patient with RP. There can be some serious adverse effects post surgery, but the process is still somewhat effective in partial restoration of vision. At present, it is available and approved in many countries including the US.
Gene therapy is also a potential treatment being considered for replacing the mutated retinal gene with a healthy gene variant to resume the healthy functioning of photoreceptor cells in the patient of RP but this treatment is still underway.
Having stated that RP cannot be completely cured, recent medical technology has introduced helpful low-vision aid devices designed under the careful collaborative work of medical professionals and tech-experts. These devices such as IrisVision compensate for the visual defects of the person and are programmed so as to cater for individual visual requirements.
14: What should I eat if I have Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP)?
For a diet directed toward nutritional nourishment of eyes, you should eat more of the following:
- Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale and collards
- Beef liver, fish, milk, eggs
- Nuts e.g. almonds, pecans, walnuts, cashews and peanut butter
- Brightly colored vegetables (especially yellow and orange)
- Tuna, salmon, mackerel
15: What foods should I avoid if I have Retinitis Pigmentosa?
There are essentially some types of foods that are bad for RP:
- Saturated fatty foods e.g cheese, sausages, butter, cakes
- Pasta, white bread, flour tortillas etc
- Fried foods
16: How can Irisvision help patients with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP)?
IrisVision is a low-vision aid also known as a set of portable and wearable eyeglasses that come with a specialized software installed in them which is designed to compensate for the specific visual needs of each person through the features incorporated in the device i.e for a person with RP, the device enables a person to see in the dark, allowing them to see in their periphery as well as to replicate vividly colored scenes from the environment.
The settings can easily be altered by each user’s preferred ease of use. IrisVision restores a flawless view of the world while allowing the person with RP to easily continue activities such as reading, working, seeing the faces of their loved ones etc.
17: Where can I get further help and information about RP
To explore and learn more about your eye problem, it is best that you get checked by an ophthalmologist who can make a detailed analysis of your specific condition and advise accordingly.