What Is Retinitis?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 13 June 2019
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Retinitis is an inflammation of the structure at the back of the eye that responds to light. The retina is an extremely important component of sight, and damage can result in vision loss and low vision in adverse conditions. Two conditions are common culprits for inflammation: retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and cytomegalovirus (CMV) retinitis. Patients who show signs of vision damage may need a thorough evaluation to determine what is going on and how to treat it. Those who know they are at risk because of underlying health conditions or family history may want to discuss options for early diagnosis and treatment.

In the case of cytomegalovirus retinitis, patients develop inflammation because of a viral infection. CMV usually does not cause disease, unless patients have immunocompromise, often as a result of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, cancer therapy, or preparation for organ transplant. These patients are more vulnerable to severe infections because their bodies cannot fight them off. The virus can spread throughout the body, not just to the eyes, and may cause a variety of complications.


People with retinitis pigmentosa develop lesions in the retina that may be genetic in nature. Research suggests that the disease runs in families, which may provide important clues to treatment and prevention. These patients often notice the problem first in the form of night blindness, before developing symptoms like those seen in CMV retinitis, which can include blurred vision, spots, and floaters. RP is progressive, and can cause continuing damage over time.

Patients who report to an ophthalmologist or other medical practitioner with vision problems of this nature may receive a thorough evaluation. The damage to the retina should be visible on the exam. Blood testing can reveal tell-tale signs of CMV as well as immune dysfunction. A patient history may provide some additional diagnostic information. All of these materials together can help a doctor accurately diagnose the condition and discuss a treatment plan with the patient. Ongoing monitoring may be necessary, since the underlying inflammation can be difficult to completely eradicate.

Management options depend on the cause and the patient’s condition. Both can cause severe complications if they are not addressed. Patients with cytomegalovirus may benefit from the use of certain medications. Retinitis pigmentosa patients have fewer options, but may find it helpful to protect their eyes from ultraviolet radiation. Some research also suggests that vitamin supplements may improve eye health, although controlled studies on the subject are not available.



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