Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS), also known as “visual hallucinations”, is a common condition among those with vision impairment due to eye diseases such as macular degeneration, or side vision loss resulting from a stroke. Fortunately, Charles Bonnet Syndrome-related imaging is unrelated to psychiatric hallucinations. It is strictly caused by vision impairment.
These images occur when a person is fully conscious and wide awake, often during broad daylight. The person is aware that the hallucinations are not real. The images come and go for no reason, they are exclusively visual and are never combined with sounds or sensations.
If you begin to notice any type of hallucination, it’s important to make an appointment with Dr. Marc Gannon as soon as possible.
Charles Bonnet Syndrome is caused by the way the brain reacts to vision loss. It begins in the weeks and months following a dramatic deterioration of sight.
Those with good vision can clearly see things in their environment. However, in those with vision impairment, the brain doesn’t receive as much information from the eyes as it used to, leading the brain to fill these gaps by creating new illusionary images.
This condition is often compared to “phantom limb” experiences felt by people who have had a limb amputated. They may still feel their missing toes or fingers or may experience itching on an arm that is no longer there. This occurs when the nerves in the body are still active and send signals to the brain, leading the brain to interpret the signals as sensations coming from the missing limb. Similarly, when vision becomes severely impaired, the visual system begins firing off visual images.
This condition affects up to about 40% percent of people with low vision. Research suggests that it is more likely to occur in those with visual acuity between 20/120 and 20/400.
Typical images people see include cartoon characters, flowers, faces, hands rubbing each other, waterfalls, mountains, animals, maple trees in vibrant autumn foliage, colored polka dots, rowhouses, brightly colored balloons, repeated visual patterns and other amusing or annoying images.
CBS hallucinations only affect your sight. In other words, you cannot hear, smell or feel things that aren’t actually there. Those with the condition can recognize when what they’re seeing isn’t real, even though it’s vivid. In fact, once one understands that his or her illusions are not symptoms of mental illness, one can feel more at ease with the random appearance and disappearance of images.
Currently, there is no cure for CBS, but just knowing that the condition is not a mental health problem can bring relief. Furthermore, it also helps to remember that CBS generally improves with time (even though it doesn’t disappear completely). Make sure to share your experiences with a support system, such as friends and family, as that too can help.
There are several things you can try to do to cope with this condition.
If you have Charles Bonnet Syndrome, it’s impossible to predict how frequently you will see the images or how long they will last. You may have these hallucinations for only a few months or you may have it for years. You may see visual images every day, a few times a week or several times a month.
There is no specific test used to diagnose this condition. However, Dr. Marc Gannon will discuss your medical history with you and will try to rule out other sources of visual hallucinations, such as:
If you have vision loss and experience hallucinations and don’t have these conditions present, you likely have CBS.
If you have CBS, that means you have low vision. But let us reassure you that you can regain functional vision and do the things you love to do. In fact, there are many things you can do to make the most of your remaining vision; our custom vision aids and devices will allow you to maximize the use of your remaining vision in the most effective way possible.
Begin the journey to better vision solutions and a better quality of life with Dr. Marc Gannon. All of us at The Low Vision Institute are dedicated to helping you remain independent and improve the quality of your life.
The Low Vision Institute is the preferred provider of low vision aids for patients from Ft. Lauderdale and locations throughout Florida