Charles Bonnet Syndrome

Charles Bonnet syndrome (CBS) is a common condition among people who have lost their vision. It causes them to see things that aren’t really there. The viewing of non-existent things is known as visual hallucinations.

Charles Bonnet syndrome can be distressing, but the hallucinations are not permanent. Many people experience hallucinations for a year, before they become lesser in frequency.

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Symptoms of Charles Bonnet syndrome

People with Charles Bonnet syndrome may have lost their vision due to age-related macular degeneration, diabetic eye disease or cataract. These conditions are common in older people. However, anyone of any age, including children, may develop this condition.

Hallucination is defined as persistent or recurrent visual pseudohallucinatory phenomena of a pleasant or neutral nature in a clear state of consciousness. The condition may be aggravated by other circumstances, such as sensory deprivation, aging, depression, stroke, diminished cognitive abilities, or bereavement.

Around 60percent of individuals who experience serious sight loss develop Charles Bonnet syndrome.

Types of Charles Bonnet syndrome hallucinations

The types of Charles Bonnet syndrome hallucinations are:

  • Complex hallucinations of people, objects and landscapes
  • Simple repeated patterns

Both kinds of hallucinations can vary in color, or they may move or stay still. Many affected individuals experience one type of hallucination more than the other or may have both types of hallucinations at the same time, or one after another.

  • Complex hallucinations: This type of hallucination that one may experience, are more complicated and include hallucinations of people, places, insects and animals. May experience hallucinations where whole scenes appear, which may move or remain still.
  • Simple repeating pattern hallucinations: People with Charles Bonnet syndrome may experience hallucinations of repeating patterns, which may be grids or shapes, and which can be vivid in color. Sometimes people also experience patterns of distorted faces, which appear in their vision and can change shape or move.

Causes of Charles Bonnet syndrome

The main cause of Charles Bonnet syndrome is loss of vision and it is the reaction of brain to the vision loss. It is not really known how the loss of sight leads to hallucinations. But researches have revealed about how the eye and the brain work together.

Current researches suggest that the visualization of real things around and the information received from eyes actually stops the brain from creating its own pictures. When one loses his/her sight, the brain is not receiving as much information from the eyes as it used to be. The brain sometimes fill in these gaps by releasing new fantasy pictures, patterns or old pictures that it has stored. When this occurs, one experiences these images stored in the brain as hallucinations.

There is no test to find out whether one has Charles Bonnet syndrome or not. Doctors may rule out first, the causes for other hallucinations, such as Alzheimer’s, mental health problems, and other conditions. If there are no signs of other conditions and the sight is lost, then it is probable that Charles Bonnet syndrome is the cause for hallucinations.

Parkinson’s disease, strokes, serious mental illness, Alzheimer’s, and other conditions, that affect the brain conditions may cause some people to have hallucinations. It is important that to know whether individuals with Charles Bonnet syndrome do not develop any of these other conditions. These conditions along with Charles Bonnet syndrome can make the hallucinations more frequent.

A person with Charles Bonnet syndrome can recognize that what he/she is seeing might be vivid, and that it may not be real. People with Charles Bonnet syndrome can hear, smell or feel things, which are real.

People with Charles Bonnet syndrome do not develop any obvious, complicated non-medical explanation about the cause of their hallucinations. For example, someone with Charles Bonnet syndrome wouldn’t think that the people they were seeing wanted to hurt him.

Charles Bonnet Syndrome treatment

Currently there is no medical cure for Charles Bonnet syndrome. The most effective form of treatment can come from knowing that the condition is not a mental health problem or a symptom of another disease, but is due to sight loss. The fact that that Charles Bonnet syndrome usually improves with the time, might help to cope with the hallucinations.

Although there is no proven drug to stop Charles Bonnet syndrome hallucinations, some drugs for other problems have been successful in helping some people. The drugs that have been tried are usually very strong and are designed for people with epilepsy, Parkinson’s, dementia or mental health problems. All these drugs can have serious side effects and should only be used under proper supervision.

Consulting a counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist may provide the ways of coping with the hallucinations that one may experience.

Keeping the TV or radio on or moving around can aid in decreasing the symptoms. Looking directly at the image they are seeing causes it to fade. Sometimes moving your eyes or blinking rapidly can also help.  When hallucination starts, look from left to right about once in every second for 15 to 30 seconds, without moving your head.

If your hallucinations happen in dim light, then try to open the curtains or turn on a light or television as the change in lighting may help to stop the hallucinations. If hallucinations happen when there’s a lot of light then switching off the light may also help.

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