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Retinitis

Retinitis is a disease that threatens vision by damaging the retina -- the light-sensing tissue at the back of your eye. Although there's no cure, there are steps you can take to protect your sight and make the most of the vision you have.

Types of Retinitis

Retinitis pigmentosa (RP). This is a group of genetic eye diseases you inherit from one or both parents.

Some examples of RP and related diseases:

  • Usher syndrome
  • Leber's congenital amaurosis (LCA)
  • Rod-cone disease
  • Bardet-Biedl syndrome

CMV retinitis. This is a type of retinitis that develops from a viral infection of the retina.

CMV (cytomegalovirus) is a herpes virus. Most people have been exposed to the virus, but it usually causes no harm. When a herpes virus is reactivated in people with weaker immune systems, it can cause retinitis.

Symptoms of Retinitis

Symptoms of RP.  You're most likely to get a diagnosis of RP as a teen or young adult.Vision loss is slow, and the rate of vision change varies from person to person. How quickly it moves depends on the genetic makeup of your RP.

  • Early RP symptoms: Loss of night vision, making it harder to drive at dusk or night or to see in dimly lit rooms.
  • Later RP symptoms: Loss of side (peripheral) vision, leading to tunnel vision -- like looking through a straw.

Sometimes you lose central vision first. Then, reading or doing close work isn't easy. This loss of central vision also affects color vision.

Symptoms of CMV retinitis. In early stages, CMV retinitis causes no symptoms.

You may develop symptoms, first in one eye, over a few days.

Symptoms may include:

  • Floaters (specks or clouds in your field of vision)
  • Blurred vision
  • Loss of side vision

Just as with RP, symptoms may occur first with central vision. This affects reading and perception of color.

Treatment

If you have retinitis, it's important to see an eye doctor (ophthalmologist) regularly. 

Treatment for RP.Supplements may slow the disease. Research has shown some promise with a combination of vitamin A, lutein, and oily fish high in the omega-3 fatty acid DHA.

Fish high in omega-3 fatty acid include:

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Sardines

Ask your eye doctor how much vitamin A is safe to take. In high levels, it can be toxic.

It may also help to wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from ultraviolet (UV) light.

Researchers are looking into a range of treatment options, such as gene therapy and transplants. They are already making progress. For example, patients in a small genetic study have had some sight restored with genetic therapy. One day, it may be possible to treat RP by inserting healthy genes into your retina.

If you have RP, there are some devices that can help make objects look brighter and larger, such as low-vision magnifiers. These devices can help you remain independent and active.

You can also try rehabilitation services that can help you use the vision you have in a more effective way.

Treatment for CMV retinitis. To help prevent blindness, doctors both treat the retinitis and work to strengthen your immune system.

You may need an antiviral medication such as ganciclovir. You might take pills by mouth or receive an injection into a vein or eye.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Brian S. Boxer Wachler, MD on January 14, 2014

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