Primer on Retinitis Pigmentosa

“It’s like walking around while looking through a narrow tube. Then at night, imagine wearing thick, heavily darkened sunglasses. The irony is that, during the day, I actually need to wear sunglasses due to my intense light sensitivity.” 

James C Laird, Retinitis Pigmentosa

Imagine what it would be like to not be able to fully see a scene from your favourite TV show, to only be able to see the nose of your loved ones, to have to read your favourite book letter by letter, to live your life one jigsaw piece at a time. 

This is what it can be like for those with retinitis pigmentosa (RP). 

RP is a group of disorders that involve the breakdown of photoreceptor cells in the retina, a part of the eye that translates light into usable information for the brain. 

This can mean that those with RP will experience night blindness (one of the first symptoms) as well as a gradual decrease in their field of view. However, because retinitis pigmentosa is caused by a change in any one of over 50 genes, each case is different. Some may have perfect central vision, but are limited to 3 degrees field of view. Others may have small patches of clarity dotted around their vision. There are even those who experience kaleidoscopic sights.

RP is an inherited disorder and can be passed on to a child by parents who do not show signs of the condition. Conversely, parents with retinitis pigmentosa will not necessarily pass on the disorder to their children. 

While currently there is no cure for RP, there has been much work done to make life easier for those with the condition. Smart glasses, like OXSIGHT Crystal, are able to potentially increase the field of view for those with usable central vision allowing users to do things they were not able to previously. There has also been much research into genetics to find a way to reverse the degradation, bringing hope for a cure in the future.

For more information on RP, see RNIB’s full guide.