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Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS)

What is Charles Bonnet Syndrome?

Charles Bonnet Syndrome is a condition where you see things that are not real; vivid and silent visual hallucinations in many shapes and forms. 

The hallucinations are not caused by a mental health problem or dementia but are a reaction of the brain to loss of vision.  The vision loss could be caused by any eye condition that causes a dramatic reduction in vision such as stroke, trauma, diabetes, multiple sclerosis or other conditions which damage the optic nerve. 

Of the 1.5 million people suffering from macular disease in the UK, up to half are believed to suffer from visual hallucinations at some point.

What are Charles Bonnet Syndrome hallucinations like?

The hallucinations can be:

Most people who are diagnosed with Charles Bonnet syndrome know these hallucinations are not real.    Up to half of the people suffering from macular degeneration are believed to suffer from visual hallucinations at some point.

Charles Bonnet Syndrome hallucinations only involve your sight – you cannot hear, touch or smell these images.

When you experience vision loss your brain can start fill in the gaps in your field of vision with new pictures or patterns.  This can be upsetting or frightening for the person experiencing them, especially as they are already dealing with the vision loss itself.  Some people will not tell anyone they are experiencing these symptoms as they think it’s a sign they are getting old or that they are “losing the plot”. 

How can I stop Charles Bonnet Syndrome hallucinations?

Sometimes the hallucinations are worse when you are sitting quietly, without much to keep you focused.  Suggestions to try and help are things like putting the radio or TV for a distraction.  Standing up and moving around or going into a different room may help.

Is there a cure for Charles Bonnet Syndrome?

There is no cure for Charles Bonnet Syndrome at the moment but there are things that can help you live with the condition.  Often knowing that it is not a mental health issue can be a relief. 

When you first experience your visual hallucinations, they may happen frequently and last long periods of time.  But they will become less frequent over time and may eventually stop.  Sometimes the symptoms do worsen when stressed or anxious.

There are several websites that can provide useful information on Charles Bonnet Syndrome, visit some of these here.

https://www.rnib.org.uk/your-eyes/eye-conditions-az/charles-bonnet-syndrome/

https://www.macularsociety.org/macular-disease/macular-conditions/charles-bonnet-syndrome/

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/charles-bonnet-syndrome/