Retinitis Pigmentosa is a hereditary disease, caused by a number of different genetic defects, that affects about 1 in 4,000 people in the U.S.  The genetic defects damage the functioning of the retina, the inner-eye tissue that enables sight by converting light images of things you look at to nerve signals that are passed on to your brain.

Retinitis Pigmentosa most often affects the rod cells in the retina (the ones that enable night vision), but in some cases, it is the cone cells (the ones that enable you to see color) that are most impacted.

Because it’s a genetic disorder, the main risk factor for Retinitis Pigmentosa is a family history of the disease, so it’s important to know whether anyone in your family tree has been affected.

Symptoms & Progression

Symptoms of Retinitis Pigmentosa often start in childhood, but severe vision problems don’t typically develop until adulthood, including:

  • Poor or reduced vision in low light or at night
  • “Tunnel vision” (a loss of peripheral or “side” vision)
  • Central vision loss (usually only seen in advanced cases of the disease)

Retinitis Pigmentosa is a progressive disease, so it advances slowly over time, eventually leading to peripheral and central vision loss, but the disease does not usually result in full blindness.  Sufferers may also develop cataracts at an early age or swelling of the retina (Macular Edema), so patients should seek regular eye exams to identify and treat these complications early if they occur.


There are a number of different tests your doctor may use to evaluate your retinal functioning:

  • Dilated pupil exam of the retina with an ophthalmoscope
  • Intraocular pressure – measures pressure within the eye
  • Fluorescin angiography – or “retinal photography,” uses a special camera and dye to look at blood flow in the retina and choroid
  • Pupil reflex response – measures the speed and strength of the pupil reflex
  • Electroretinogram – measures retinal electrical activity
  • Refraction test – tests vision clarity through a variety of lenses
  • Visual field test – or “side vision test,” measures peripheral vision
  • Visual acuity test – determines the smallest letters you can see on a chart
  • Color vision test – determines the ability to see and differentiate colors
  • Slit lamp examination – examines the physical structures of the eye using a low-power microscope and high-intensity light, often involves the use of a yellow dye to examine the cornea and tear layer

Taken together, the results of these diagnostic exams and tests can confirm a diagnosis of Retinitis Pigmentosa and clarify the extent of the disease progression.


There is no effective treatment for Retinitis Pigmentosa that corrects the underlying problem, but investigations are ongoing into whether treatment with antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acid DHA or microchip implants may help in the future.

Protecting your retinas from exposure to ultraviolet light by wearing sunglasses in bright sunlight may help preserve your vision.

Custom eyeglasses might help you see better!

Custom eyeglasses with advanced optics often help Retinitis Pigmentosa sufferers adapt to their vision deficits and see better.  To find out whether Dr. Bissell’s specialized eyeglasses might help you, please contact us today or call 1-888-552-2020 to schedule a free, no-obligation 15-minute phone consultation.

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