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#76 Charles Bonnet Syndrome

Readers, have you ever heard about Charles Bonnet Syndrome? It’s all about visual hallucinations, caused by the brain’s adjustment to significant vision loss. In other words, you see things that aren’t really there.

Your brain wants more images than it receives, so it makes things up to compensate for the loss of vision. One study indicated that about 12% of those with macular degeneration will develop this syndrome.

If it happens to you and you have never heard about it, it can be super scary. Anxiety and distress will happen especially the first time, and especially if you have never heard about it. Remember, this experience isn’t a sign of mental illness. The hallucinations happen more often in people when both eyes are affected by sight loss but can occur with problems in one eye only. They often start after a sudden worsening of vision.

Most people experience these hallucinations when they first wake up. There is no cure. They may disappear over time but can take a couple of years to go away.

The hallucinations can be simple unformed flashes of light, colors or shapes. They can be gardens, animals, faces, and trees. The images might be black and white or in color. They may move or stay in one place. The images might be true to size or smaller than normal. They can last seconds, minutes, or hours.

Image from Macular Society

Some people enjoy pleasant hallucinations. For others, they can be frightening; or they are just an unwanted distraction.

Even with little vision, eye movements can activate parts of the brain and can sometimes stop certain types of hallucinations, particularly patterns and colors. Other ways to stop a hallucination include:

  • Shut your eyes or look away from the image.
  • Switch on the lights or if in a bright light, move somewhere darker.
  • Simply get up and do something else.
  • Some people report that the hallucinations go away if they move their eyes from side to side or up and down.

www.macularsociety.org This website is where much of the above information comes from. www.mycleveland.org is another website with information about these hallucinations.

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