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Bumping into objects could be first sign of retinitis pigmentosa

Phillip Schofield gets agitated as eyesight deteriorates in July

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Like many medical conditions a lot of eye problems are associated with ageing and can get worse the older we get. However, sometimes they can be hereditary – meaning they are passed down through generations. One such condition is retinitis pigmentosa.

It is thought around 25,000 people in the UK have retinitis pigmentosa, which is sometimes referred to as RP for short.

What is retinitis pigmentosa?

As the name suggests, retinitis pigmentosa affects the retina, which is a layer at the back of your eyes.

It is a genetic eye condition and a type of inherited retinal dystrophy that affects the photoreceptor cells responsible for your vision.

These stop working and cause deterioration in your sight.

Most forms of this condition affect night vision and peripheral vision first, though some can affect central vision first.

Doctor Louise Gow, the Royal National Institute of Blind People’s (RNIB) strategic lead for eye health said people can develop the condition at any time.

She explained: “Some inherited retinal conditions begin to affect a person in their early childhood while others may not start to affect a person’s sight until they are an adult.

“Patients’ vision can be stable for some time and then get worse suddenly over a short period of time.

“Therefore, this might require someone to keep re-adapting to lower levels of sight.”


According to the RNIB, early symptoms of retinitis pigmentosa include:

  • Bumping into objects around the home that appeared to come out of nowhere
  • Trouble seeing while walking on dark winter nights.

However, as it worsens it can lead to:

  • Losing your peripheral vision – ‘tunnel vision’
  • Trouble distinguishing faces
  • Difficulty reading.

Patients also describe how moving objects in a familiar room or someone approaching them from the side can make things “more disorientating”.

How do people get retinitis pigmentosa?

The RNIB explains: “From your parents or other relatives, as a result of a mutation in one of the genes involved in creating a healthy retina.

“There are many forms of inherited retinal dystrophy (IRDs), retinitis pigmentosa is the most common of which.

“They don’t all share the same characteristics but most forms of these inherited conditions affect night vision and peripheral vision first, though some can affect central vision first.

“Peripheral vision is what helps us see things to the side of us and helps to detect movement and avoid obstacles.

“Around half of people with an inherited condition have a relative who already has RP.

“For the remaining half, there is no prior knowledge of any other members in their family with the condition.

“This may be because their relatives were carriers of the condition and haven’t shown signs of it themselves.

What help is available?

RNIB can provide information and support for someone diagnosed with RP or any other sight condition, via the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999.

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