Charles Bonnet Syndrome or CBS can cause strange hallucinations and can scare the living daylights out of the person affected. It is a condition where one sees things that are not real. While people may initially feel they are suffering from a mental health problem or dementia, it happens when one loses a some or all of their vision. Losing vision in both eyes increases the probability of getting affected from the disorder. The hallucinations can be of people, animals, patterns, shapes, and may last for a few seconds, minutes or even hours. There is not treatment for Charles Bonnet Syndrome, but it can be managed with some effective tips. (Also read: Mental health tips: 3 effective ways for women to beat daily stress)
What is Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS)
“Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS) occurs after people lose some or all their vision. It makes them experience visual hallucinations (seeing things that aren’t really there). As suggested by a new study, this condition is most commonly reported among people who have lost a lot or all of their eyesight. The occurrence is higher if loss of vision occurs in both eyes. Charles Bonnet syndrome may affect you at any age, but it is most commonly found in elderly population since aging is more prone to visual impairment,” says Dr. Nikhil Seth Senior Consultant Ophthalmology, Marengo QRG Hospital, Faridabad.
Why CBS causes hallucinations
Explaining why the eye condition causes hallucinations in people who lose their vision, Dr Seth explains, “With healthy vision, the retina (the light-sensitive tissue in the back of the eye) receives light that enters your eye and transforms it into visual messages for the brain. The brain interprets the visual messages so you can be able to see them. When people meet with vision loss due to a disease like glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, or diabetic retinopathy, their visual system does not process new images. In the absence of visual data that’s being transmitted through your eyes, the brain fills the void and compensates for images or recalls stored images for you to see. This is what leads to the visual hallucinations of CBS,” says the expert.
Symptoms, types of hallucinations
Dr Seth says people suffering from the disorder experience some common visual hallucinations but it may also differ from person to person. The length of the hallucinations may also vary. The expert says people with Charles Bonnet Syndrome develop visual hallucinations as main symptoms when they wake up but visual hallucinations may vary from person to person.
“People with this syndrome may see some common visual hallucinations such as repeating patterns of lines, dots, or other geometric shapes, landscapes like mountains or waterfalls, people, animals, or insects, people dressed in costume from an earlier time, imaginary creatures such as dragons. The hallucinations may appear in vivid colour or in black and white and also may move or remain still. The length of the hallucinations may last seconds, minutes, or hours,” says Dr Seth.
Diagnosis of CBS
“To diagnose this syndrome, the information about patients’ medical history is collected. Doctor sheds light on other sources of visual hallucinations like whether you take certain medications, mental health problems and other neurological (brain) conditions. If you suffer from vision loss and visual hallucinations without these other conditions, you may have CBS,” says Dr Seth.
There is no recognised cure or effective treatment for Charles Bonnet syndrome. You may resort to some techniques to cope up with the condition. Dr Seth explains.
Talk about your hallucinations
Talk about your hallucinations while speaking to your therapist, your doctor, a friend or a family member. Sharing your hallucination experience with someone can make you feel less isolated. You may simply remind yourself or your loved one that the hallucinations occurred due to vision loss and not the result of a mental health problem.
Change the lighting of your room
If you experience hallucinations more often in dim lighting or in brightly lit rooms, then change the environment. Changing the lighting conditions may help lower your hallucinations. For example, if hallucinations take place in dim light, you should turn on more lights or open the curtains. If you see hallucinations when it’s very quiet, you may turn on a TV or radio.
Do this exercise
To manage hallucinations, you may also move your eyes up-or-down or side-to-side (without moving your head), look away from the hallucinations, stare at the hallucinations, close your eyes and then open them, rest and relax. You may get plenty of sleep and do exercise, meditation to beat anxiety.