Charles Bonnet Syndrome

Symptoms of Charles Bonnet Syndrome

There are several symptoms of Charles Bonnet Syndrome. These include:

  • significant vision loss,
  • visual hallucinations,
  • no control over the hallucinations,
  • awareness that the hallucinations aren’t real.     

It’s important to remember that Charles Bonnet syndrome causes visual and not auditory hallucinations, so you should check with your optometrist or your doctor if you’re also experiencing phantom hearing or sensory issues.

Experiences vary from person to person, but common visual hallucinations are usually one of two types:

  • Simple: repeating patterns of lines, dots, or other geometric shapes.
  • Complex: landscapes, people, animals, insects, or even fantastical with imaginary creatures like dragons. These are more likely in people with severe loss of vision.

When you have an episode, the hallucinations can last for anything from a few seconds to several hours. The images you see could be life-sized or small, and anything from multicoloured to simple black and white.

While they can be still, they can also move around and even lay over one another. You may find that you see the same or similar hallucinations each time, or they can be something completely new.

Charles Bonnet syndrome can be distressing, especially when the hallucinations first start. People may worry that they have dementia or a serious mental illness. It can also be frightening if you think you see unexplained images, even if you then realise it’s not real. Seeing patterns and shapes can also distort the real world making it hard to move around or complete everyday tasks.

 

Charles Bonnet Syndrome Diagnosis

There isn’t an exact test to diagnose Charles Bonnet syndrome. To diagnose it, your optometrist or your doctor will:

  • Discuss your medical history.
  • Talk you through your symptoms.
  • Rule out any other visual hallucinations causes

If you are not suffering from other conditions but are experiencing visual hallucinations alongside vision loss, it’s likely that you have Charles Bonnet syndrome.

Charles Bonnet Syndrome Treatment

There is no cure or treatment for Charles Bonnet Syndrome, but in most cases, the hallucinations slow down or go away after 12 to 18 months. However, keep in mind that they can continue to occur occasionally for 5 years or more. It is also likely that they will reappear if your sight starts to worsen again.²

To help you manage life with Charles Bonnet syndrome, one of the most important things you can do is try and become familiar with the features of the condition. Understanding the cause of the hallucinations and that they are normal can be a powerful way for you to make it feel less unsettling. Talking to your doctor, optometrist, friends, and family or finding a support group can also help.

If you are finding the hallucinations difficult to cope with, speaking to a mental health professional can also be effective to help you manage. Your doctor will be able to refer you to the right services.

You can also help manage your symptoms with some simple day-to-day strategies:³

  • Move your eyes: Try moving your gaze around as you keep your head still. Look up and down and left to right. Wait a few seconds and then try again. Repeat a few times.
  • Focus on the image: Stare at the image and blink several times. You can even try reaching your hand out towards it.
  • Change the light: If it’s bright try turning down the lights or moving to a darker spot. If it’s dim, try turning them up or move to somewhere brighter.
  • Change the volume: If the hallucinations happen when it’s very quiet, try turning on the TV or radio and see if it makes a difference.
  • Rest and relax: Stress and lack of sleep can make hallucinations worse, so it’s important to make sure you sleep enough and find ways to unwind and manage stress.

If you are affected by Charles Bonnet Syndrome and would like to learn more about support groups or forums of people affected by vision loss, please contact the NHS for more information.

 

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