Retinitis Pigmentosa


Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) refers to a group of degenerative eye diseases that are hereditary and characterized by progressive visual impairment. The genetic defects cause apoptosis (cell death) of rod photoreceptors with or without the involvement of cone receptors or retinal pigment epithelium.

The Patient with retinitis Pigmentosa has night blindness (nyctalopia), usually the first symptoms, peripheral visual loss which later became progressive and leads to central visual loss, and photopsia ( light flashes). It can occur as an isolated condition or as part of a syndrome. Up to 30% of patient with RP will have associated hearing loss (Usher syndrome)

Molecular defect in over 90 genes have been linked to this condition. It is highly heterogeneous and those with the same mutation can have different manifestations. Inheritance can be autosomal dominant, autosomal recessive, or X linked recessive, and mitochondrial gene mutation.  However up to 50% of cases are found in those without any family history of RP.

There is no cure for this condition yet. However various supplements such as vitamins A, C, and E, calcium channel blockers, and carbonic anhydrase inhibitors are used for delaying the disease progression but their efficacy is still a subject of debate. Investigational treatment modalities are: gene therapy, surgical placement of growth factors, retinal prosthesis, etc.

Electroacupuncture to the forehead and below the eyes and acupuncture to the body, at 10 half-hour sessions over two weeks were noticed to improve vision in patients with retinitis Pigmentosa. The procedure was completed and well tolerated by all the subjects without adverse events or visual loss.

Twelve adult patients with retinitis Pigmentosa were recruited for the study (a prospective, case series study). Six of 12 subjects had measurable, significant visual function improvements after treatment. Four of the five subjects with psychophysically measured scotopic sensitivity improvements reported subjective improvements in vision at night or in dark environments.

This study convincingly demonstrated the effectiveness of acupuncture in maintaining and improving the residual vision in patients with retinitis Pigmentosa.

Ava K Bittner, OD PhD, Jeffrey M Gould, MEd LAc, Andy Rosenfarb, ND LAc, Collin Rozanski, and Gislin Dagnelie, PhD A pilot study of an acupuncture protocol to improve visual function in retinitis pigmentosa patients. Clin Exp Optom. 2014 May; 97(3): 240–247. doi: 10.1111/cxo.12117

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