How Does An Optometrist Diagnose Retinitis Pigmentosa?

How Does An Optometrist Diagnose Retinitis Pigmentosa?

Retinitis pigmentosa is a group of related eye disorders that cause progressive vision loss. These disorders directly affect the retina, which is the light-sensitive tissue located at the back of your eye. While many types of eye diseases are a result of lifestyle habits or other health problems, retinitis pigmentosa is a purely genetic condition. In those who suffer from retinitis pigmentosa, vision loss occurs when the light-sensitive cells in your retina begin to deteriorate. Symptoms of this disease typically develop in early childhood and begin to worsen over time leading to the risk of total vision loss. However, early diagnosis by an optometrist with the aid of certain preventative treatments can help slow the progression of the disease.

While it is important to visit your eye doctor at least once every two years if you are under the age of 65, it is also critical to book an appointment when any type of vision change occurs. While these changes can point to a variety of eye diseases, there could be a chance that you have the gene for retinitis pigmentosa. 

Signs And Symptoms Of Retinitis Pigmentosa

The symptoms of retinitis pigmentosa often begin in early childhood or during the teenage years. Some individuals notice a slow, progressive loss of vision, whereas others lose their eyesight much more quickly and severely. 

  • Common symptoms of retinitis pigmentosa include:
  • Difficulty seeing at night or in dim lighting
  • Sensitivity to bright lights
  • Reduced ability to see peripheral vision
  • Difficulty reading fine print and figuring out detailed images
  • Difficulty differentiating colours
  • Family history of retinitis pigmentosa

If you notice that you suffer from any of the symptoms listed above, book a retinal eye exam with your eye doctor to receive a comprehensive eye exam. Your eye doctor will be able to determine the cause of your symptoms and will develop a treatment plan to help restore and maintain your vision. 

Diagnostic Procedures

During your retinal exam your eye doctor will first begin by administering eye drops to dilate your pupils. They will then use a special tool called an ophthalmoscope to examine the retinas of your eyes. If your eyes are in good health, your eye doctor will see an area called the fundus (back surface of your eye) that is orange and red in colour. However, if you have retinitis pigmentosa, the fundus will have brown and black spots. 

Retinal imaging may also be conducted to show where the light is hitting the retina using a high-resolution camera to take a photo of the back of your eye. Visual field tests will also be performed to detect changes in peripheral vision. 

If your eye doctor suspects the presence of retinitis pigmentosa disease, they may require blood tests to confirm the presence of the disease as well as the specific genetic abnormality. 

Treatment Options

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for this rare disease. However, there are different treatments that can help manage the symptoms of retinitis pigmentosa. Certain oral medications can reduce the swelling of the retina to slow down the disease and prevent more symptoms from developing. Wearing prescription glasses or contact lenses can also be used as well as wearing sunglasses outside to prevent UV rays from causing more damage to your eye that can speed up vision loss. 

Calgary Retinal Exams

If you are experiencing symptoms associated with retinitis pigmentosa, it is important that you visit your optometrist immediately to determine the cause of your vision loss. The sooner retinitis pigmentosa can be diagnosed, the easier it will be to manage its symptoms to allow you to retain your vision. While this hereditary condition ultimately leads to vision loss, it can be slowed with an early diagnosis. And if you are diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, you will be able to let other family members know so they can see if they also possess the gene for the disease.

Our SE Calgary optometry clinic located on Blackfoot Trail can help you rule out any disease or eye condition and develop treatment options to relieve your aggravating symptoms and help you see clearly. Our SE Calgary optometrists are here for you; book an eye exam with us today!


Q: Does a retinal eye exam hurt?
A: No, it does not. The eye exam is non-invasive so you will not feel any pain or discomfort. 

Q: When will the first signs and symptoms begin to show for ​​retinitis pigmentosa?
A: Symptoms of retinitis pigmentosa usually begin to develop in early childhood or in the teenage years.

Q:  How often should I visit my eye doctor?
A: Adults over the age of 18 should visit their eye doctor at least once every two years. Adults over the age of 65 should visit their eye doctor annually. 

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