Rod-cone dystrophy

Rod-cone dystrophy is an umbrella term used to describe retinal conditions in which the rod-shaped photoreceptors, found mainly in the peripheral areas of the retina, degenerate ahead of the cone-shaped photoreceptors in the centre.

Retinitis pigmentosa is the most common rod-cone dystrophy.

Rod photoreceptors are responsible for peripheral vision and also help us to see in darker conditions, because they are sensitive to low levels of light. Struggling to see in low light is often an early symptom of rod-cone dystrophy. People may also bump into things to their sides or near the ground as they lose areas of peripheral vision.

Many people with rod-cone dystrophy retain their central vision for many years, even into later life, but progression varies enormously between individuals. Rod photoreceptors provide cone photoreceptors with a special type of nourishing support, so degeneration of rods will eventually have a negative impact on cones too. Researchers are investigating ways of providing cone photoreceptors with additional support so that they can survive well beyond the degenerated rods, allowing central vision to be maintained.

Rod-cone dystrophy can be caused by mutations in any one of a huge number of genes, and inheritance patterns vary. A genetic test can provide a more precise diagnosis.

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