What is Autoimmune Retinopathy & How is it Treated?
What is Autoimmune Retinopathy?
Autoimmune Retinopathy is an extremely rare immune disorder of the eyes in which the antibodies produced by the body to protect the body mistakenly attack the cells of the retina resulting in progressive vision loss in an individual. An autoantibody is a type of protein produced by the immune system that is directed against one or more of an individual's own proteins. It is thought that in autoimmune retinopathies the autoantibodies attack proteins of the retina, therefore causing retinal disease. The visual loss as a result of Autoimmune Retinopathy can occur over a period of a few weeks but in some cases the visual loss has occurred suddenly as well.
The main symptoms experienced by an individual with Autoimmune Retinopathy are reduced peripheral vision, night blindness, flashing lights in the visual fields. The loss of vision due to Autoimmune Retinopathy may occur in one eye or bilaterally, although Autoimmune Retinopathy occuring in one eye is extremely rare.
Autoimmune Retinopathy is a disease condition which is quite complicated and extremely difficult to diagnose as their presentations are quite variable. An electroretinogram is quite a definite test which can definitively diagnose Autoimmune Retinopathy. Autoimmune Retinopathy is also associated with cancer and hence it is recommended that an individual be screened for cancer if he or she has a known diagnosis of Autoimmune Retinopathy.
What Causes Autoimmune Retinopathy?
An autoimmune disorder is a condition in which the antibodies produced by the body's immune system mistakenly attack the healthy cells of the body and resulting in damage of various vital organs. Autoimmune Retinopathy is no exception as in this case the antibodies mistakenly identify the retinal cells as a potential threat to the body and start destroying them leading to vision loss.
What are the Symptoms of Autoimmune Retinopathy?
Some of the symptoms of Autoimmune Retinopathy are:
- Gradual and progressive loss of vision in one eye or bilaterally
- Defects in the visual field
- Episodes of flashing lights in the filed of vision
- Night blindness
- Pale appearance of the optic disk which occurs very late in the disease process.
How is Autoimmune Retinopathy Diagnosed?
As stated above, due to the variable nature of the symptoms of Autoimmune Retinopathy, it is an extremely difficult condition to diagnose. In order to diagnose Autoimmune Retinopathy, specialized tests are conducted which can identify antibodies attacking the retina of the eye. These techniques are known as the Western Blot test and immunohistochemistry. The presence of these antibodies point to Autoimmune Retinopathy but certainly does not confirm the diagnosis. The best test by far so as to definitively diagnose Autoimmune Retinopathy is the electroretinogram which can clearly tell the physician as to the cause of the patient's progressive visual loss that being Autoimmune Retinopathy.
How is Autoimmune Retinopathy Treated?
There is no clear cut treatment for Autoimmune Retinopathy. Majority of the treatment is focused on improving vision and other symptoms of this immune disorder. This is usually done by medications which suppress the immune system. These medications are also known as immune modulators. These medications include steroids, mycophenolate mofetil, and intravenous immunoglobulin therapy. These medications may not completely alleviate the disease but may help with the patient's symptoms to a large degree of Autoimmune Retinopathy.