Warning Signs Of Retinitis Pigmentosa

May 6, 2024

The retina is the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of an individual's eye. Retinitis pigmentosa is the name for a group of rare genetic disorders that cause the retinal cells to break down and die. The condition is inherited and might be caused by mutations in one of over fifty potential genes. These are the genes responsible for creating proteins necessary for the retinal cells. These cells, called photoreceptors, help filter light and collect visual data. In some cases, the gene mutations are severe enough that the body doesn't create the necessary protein at all, so the cells can't function as they should. With other mutations, the body produces a protein that's toxic and kills the cell. There are also mutations that might cause abnormal proteins that aren't absorbed properly.

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Takes Longer To Adjust To The Dark

When retinitis pigmentosa is in its earliest stages, the rods in the patient's eyes are more seriously affected than the cones. Each eye has three cones that allow individuals to see the full-color spectrum in daylight. However, the rods are used to help differentiate shapes in low light and darkness. When the rods are affected, it takes longer to adjust to the dark. Patients tend to experience night blindness, a condition where they can't see during the night in conditions others don't have trouble with. The night blindness tends to affect both near and far vision, as opposed to night myopia, which only causes issues with nearsightedness. If an individual has a family history of retinitis pigmentosa and notices their night vision getting worse, they should see their optometrist.

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Loss Of Peripheral Vision

After night blindness, the next most common symptom is the gradual loss of peripheral vision. This progressive loss may be so gradual that patients don't notice it at first. Peripheral vision is what allows individuals to see images and objects at their sides. When individuals lose this vision, their field of vision narrows until they only see the things in front of them. Individuals with tunnel vision might bump into objects when they move around, even if others would have been able to see those objects. It will also be harder for them to see objects on the ground unless they're looking directly at the ground, so they may be more prone to tripping.

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Harder To Do Detail Work

As retinitis pigmentosa progresses, patients may experience problems with their central vision that make it harder to do detail work. Detail work includes things like threading needles or reading a book. It's hard to make out and focus on the necessary visual details to complete these tasks. Central vision is the part of an individual's vision that recognizes details. Most patients with central vision loss end up having only their peripheral vision left, but in cases of retinitis pigmentosa, the central vision loss might occur after peripheral vision has already narrowed. Many individuals might not notice they have vision loss until they try to do detail work. Some also mistakenly believe their inability to read or focus on detailed tasks is just a natural part of getting older.

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Photophobia is the medical term ascribed to light sensitivity, which causes individuals to have an intolerance to light. In retinitis pigmentosa, it occurs because the light-sensing and light-filtering cells of the retina are breaking down. Light sources like an incandescent light, fluorescent light, or sunlight might all result in a feeling of discomfort or the need to close one's eyes or squint. Some people with light sensitivity also get headaches when they're in a room that's too brightly lit. Photophobia isn't a disease by itself, but it is a symptom of many eye diseases and possible infections, retinitis pigmentosa being just one of them. In addition, light sensitivity might be a symptom of non-eye-related diseases like migraines or illnesses caused by viruses.

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Photopsias are more commonly known as eye floaters. The phenomenon occurs when luminous objects appear in an individual's vision, either in one or both of their eyes. Some photopsias might become permanent, while others are quick flashes of light that disappear. In most cases, photopsias will look like flickering lights, floating shapes, shimmering lights, moving dots, or static. Like photophobia, a photopsia tends to be a symptom of another condition. Photopsias can be a sign of other serious eye conditions in addition to retinitis pigmentosa. They might indicate an individual has suffered a peripheral vitreous detachment, which happens when the gel surrounding the eye separates from the retina. This tends to occur naturally as individuals age. A more serious condition is retinal detachment, which occurs when the retina detaches from its normal position. This causes it to lose access to oxygen-carrying cells, and if it isn't treated immediately, it can cause permanent vision loss. Because of the potential seriousness of photopsia-related conditions, it's important to get evaluated by an optometrist right away when experiencing this symptom.

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