Retinitis pigmentosa

Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is the name given to a group of inherited eye conditions that affect the retina at the back of the eye. RP causes permanent changes to your vision, but how much and how quickly varies from person-to-person.

Although there’s no cure for RP there are plenty of ways that you can adapt to maximise the vision you have and continue doing the things you enjoy.

We’ve created a guide to retinitis pigmentosa accredited by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists that you can download. It’s designed to give you a detailed understanding of your eye condition and helpful advice on next steps. 


Causes of retinitis pigmentosa

Almost all types of retinitis pigmentosa (RP) are inherited, caused by a fault in the genetic information passed down to you from a parent.

The faulty genes cause your retinal cells to stop working and eventually die. This affects your eye’s ability to process the light that enters it.

Because there are many genes that can cause the retinal cells to stop working, there are many different types of RP. 

You can read a more detailed breakdown of the genetic causes of RP in our Understanding Retinitis Pigmentosa guide.



For most people with RP, the early symptoms include:

  • Difficulty seeing in poor light such as outdoors at dusk or in a dimly lit room. It’s normal for eyes to take up to 20 minutes to adapt to dim light but if you have RP it will take much longer or won’t happen at all. This is often called "night blindness".
  • Loss of peripheral vision if you look straight ahead you’ll be less able to see things to the side, above or below. This can lead to ‘"tunnel vision".

Less commonly,in some cases of RP, people can experience:

  • Loss of central vision you might find it difficult reading print or carrying out detailed work

If you notice any of these symptoms for the first time, it’s important to have your eyes examined by an optometrist (optician). 


An optometrist can examine your retina to detect RP.

If you have a family history of RP or have noticed any of the symptoms associated with the condition you need to make this clear to the person testing your eyes. This will help them carry out the best  set of tests.

If the optometrist detects any changes in your retina which may be RP, they  will refer you to an ophthalmologist ( hospital eye doctor)  for more detailed testing. This may involve genetic testing and discussing any family history of RP.

There’s more information on the different types of test that can be carried out to detect RP in our Understanding Retinitis Pigmentosa guide.


Although there’s currently no known cure or treatment for RP, you’ll still be monitored regularly at the hospital eye clinic.

Many of the genes causing RP and related conditions are being discovered (or mapped) and it’s this understanding of where the faults occur in the genetic information that might lead to treatment in the future.

Despite this there’s a lot that we can do to help you make the most of the vision you do have and continue doing the things that you enjoy. 

Recently diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa

Trying to adjust after a diagnosis of RP can seem overwhelming at first and it might involve some changes to your life.

We’re here to support you every step of the way, and to answer any questions you may have about your sight loss or day-to-day living.

Talk to our eye health team

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You can get support with your eye condition with RNIBGet in touch

If you've got any questions, speak to us by calling our Helpline on 0303 123 9999.

"Knowing RNIB is there is so reassuring, like a comfort blanket." 
Peter Seaman

Living confidently with retinitis pigmentosa

Living with RP shouldn’t mean an end to doing most of the things you like to do. 

We will help you maximise your vision and make the most of the sight that you have.

If you haven’t already now would be a good time to join RNIB Connect, our connected community of everyone affected by sight loss.


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Helpful organisations

RP Fighting Blindness works hard to stimulate and fund cutting edge research to find a treatment or cure and support those affected.

Moorfields Eye Hospital is one of the world's largest centres for eye care and research.

How to get involved

About this guide

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