Retinitis pigmentosa, or RP for short, and macular degeneration, AMD, are both formidable eye diseases that result in vision loss. They are often linked together because they eventually lead to blindness overtime. Although neither has a one-and-done cure, the symptoms of both can be treatable.
More than a singular disease, RP is considered a collection of genetic disorders affecting the eye’s responsiveness to light. The area of the eye most deeply affected is the retina, which is the layer of cells at the back of the eye that detects light and then converts it into signals for the brain to recognize. Once the signals travel through the optic nerve and enter the brain, they are finally formed into images.
What happens with RP is that those very same retinal eye cells, also known as rods and cones, are either damaged or deteriorating. The first main consequence is side vision loss along with decreased night vision. Central vision also gradually worsens. Blindness is the final outcome after an extended period of time passes, and vision loss is permanent.
AMD is an eye disease that hinders central vision with progressing severity. There are various classes of macular degeneration, including the most common type, AMD, and the genetically-linked type, known as congenital macular degeneration. AMD most regularly affects people over the age of 60 years.
People with AMD routinely have patches in their vision as a result of excess fluid or blood in the center of their eye. At first, the brain attempts to compensate for the vision loss, which makes it difficult for people to notice they have AMD. In the end, heavy vision loss is possible, although there are treatment options.
On comparison, RP and AMD have slightly different symptoms and consequences but both result in a form of vision loss. Elevated eye pressure can cause vision complications in both cases, although the damage is more peripheral in RP and central in AMD. The treatment options are few for RP, but some surgical procedures exist. Surgical intervention or injections are needed in the later stages of AMD.
One study conducted by the Jules Stein Eye Institute identified the coexistence of age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa in three families. In each family, the mothers had a serious case of AMD, whereas their children developed RP. The results potentially tie the two eye conditions genetically, although the exact gene has yet to be identified.
Dr. Travis Zigler
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