Charles Bonnet Syndrome


An IALVS eye doctor can help with low vision rehabilitation and support

Charles Bonnet syndrome (CBS) is a condition that can develop after a person experiences vision loss. It leads to visual hallucinations of all types– such as seeing a vase of flowers on a table that’s really empty or seeing a distorted face peering in the window.

Charles Bonnet syndrome is relatively common among people who have lost a lot or all of their vision, and the incidence is higher if vision loss occurs in both eyes. Statistics report that up to half of all people with macular degeneration and a gradual loss of central vision develop Charles Bonnet.

If you have suffered vision loss and experience visual hallucinations, you are not alone! If you have Charles Bonnet syndrome, meeting with an IALVS eye doctor to discuss your condition and learn about low vision coping strategies can be very helpful.

How can low vision assistance from IALVS help?

Charles Bonnet syndrome is not widely recognized, and many people fear that they may have dementia or a serious mental health problem. Really, visual hallucinations are a normal response of the brain when faced with vision loss. By meeting with your knowledgeable IALVS eye doctor, you will benefit from the compassion and support of a professional who understands.

  • Charles Bonnet syndrome can make it difficult to move around securely. People who see detailed and complex hallucinations, such as distorted rooms, wavy streets, and fences that aren’t really there may have trouble going anywhere. Your IALVS eye doctor can help to familiarize you with your surroundings, so you know exactly where to go.
  • Depending on the cause of your vision loss, we can fit you with customized low vision devices to maximize your sight. When you can see better, it reduces the occurrence of your hallucinations.
  • Changing your lighting conditions can interrupt hallucinations, and an IALVS optometrist can help you set up lights as necessary. Adding bright lights when you’re in a dimly lit area (or the reverse) can usually make the imaginary images disappear.
  • Blinking and several eye movement techniques may minimize the effects of Charles Bonnet hallucinations. We can teach you various ways to move your eyes and head in order to make the images go away.
  • Support groups for people with vision loss are a great forum for bringing your condition into the open, so you don’t feel ashamed or nervous about it. Your local IALVS eye doctor can direct you towards an appropriate support group.

What causes CBS?

With healthy eyesight, the retina receives light that enters your eye and converts it into visual messages for the brain. The brain interprets the visual messages so you can see them. When a person suffers vision loss from a disease such as glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, or diabetic retinopathy, the visual system can’t process new images. To compensate for the lack of visual data that’s being transmitted through your eyes, the brain creates images or recalls stored images and displays them for you to see. These “made-up images” are the visual hallucinations of Charles Bonnet syndrome.

What are the typical symptoms of CBS?

While the visual hallucinations vary between individuals, there are some common ones:

  • Scenic landscapes, such as waterfalls and mountains
  • Animals or insects
  • People, often dressed in costume or with distorted features
  • Repeating patterns of geometric shapes, lines, and dots
  • Imaginary creatures, such as unicorns

These hallucinations may appear in vivid color or in black and white, and they can be stationary or in movement. The duration of Charles Bonnet hallucinations can be a few seconds, minutes, or hours.

How is CBS diagnosed?

Your eye doctor will ask you questions about your eye health and general medical history. Other sources of visual hallucinations must be ruled out, such as dementia, Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, or the side effects of medication. There is no specialized test or eye exam to confirm Charles Bonnet syndrome, but if you have vision loss and hallucinations – without any other conditions, CBS is the likely diagnosis.

Is there a medical treatment for CBS?

No, there is no cure or effective medication for Charles Bonnet syndrome. Some people find that stress and fatigue exacerbate the symptoms, so getting enough sleep and relaxation time is important.

Sometimes, medications for dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy are prescribed to treat CBS, but these drugs can have serious side effects. Therefore, they are only advised for people with extreme cases and under close medical supervision.

Visit your IALVS eye doctor for low vision rehabilitation

Studies have shown that low vision rehabilitation may reduce the frequency of Charles Bonnet hallucinations in patients with this condition. Effective rehabilitation strategies include using personalized low vision devices to enable improved visual function for the type of vision loss that each person has experienced.

Also, talking openly about your hallucinations is a proven way to alleviate the stress of CBS – thereby improving your overall quality of life. Our IALVS eye doctors are knowledgeable about Charles Bonnet syndrome, and we can offer reassurance, support, and practical low vision aids that you need for your daily life!