Charles Bonnet syndrome (2024)

Charles Bonnet syndrome (CBS) is a common condition among people who’ve lost their sight. It causes people who have lost a lot of vision to see things that aren’t there – medically known as having a hallucination.

Hallucinations can be frightening, particularly when you’re also dealing with losing your sight. Although the hallucinations may not be of anything frightening, it’s natural to feel anxious and confused just by having the experience of a hallucination.

Talking about CBS

If your hallucinations make you anxious, you may feel like keeping them to yourself. However, even though there’s no cure for CBS, letting people know you have this problem or talking about it may help give you peace of mind.

Describing your hallucinations and how they make you feel may help you cope with them. Most people find that talking about their hallucinations with their GP, optometrist (optician), ophthalmologist (hospital eye doctor), family, friends or carers can help.

Although CBS isn’t connected to mental health problems, professionals who work in the mental health field have a lot of experience in helping people deal with hallucinations. If your hallucinations become upsetting, your GP could refer you to the local mental health team for further help. Talking over your feelings with a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist may provide you with ways to reduce the anxiety the hallucinations may cause.

Dealing with the hallucinations

For most people there isn’t just one way to deal with their hallucinations, but there are a few things that you can try to do that may help.

Change what you are doing

Many people find that their hallucinations appear when they are sitting quietly without much occupying their mind. Putting the TV or radio on, or standing up and moving around, or going into a different room can sometimes make the hallucination disappear. Moving your head slowly from side to side, dipping your head at each shoulder may also help.

Change the lighting

If your hallucinations happen in dim light, then try opening the curtains, turning on a light or the television. Lighting conditions in certain rooms may also mean that you see the hallucinations more often in one room than another. For example, you may find that you rarely get your hallucinations in your garden or kitchen, but that you often see them in your living room. This may be because the kitchen and garden are much brighter and this is helping to control the hallucinations. If your hallucinations happen when there’s a lot of light, then switching off a light may also help.

Making sure that the lighting is the right level for your sight condition in all the rooms in your home will help you make the most of your sight and might help with your hallucinations.

Look directly at the image or reach out to it

Some people also find that looking directly at the image they are seeing or reaching out to touch it or brush it away causes it to fade.

Eye movements and blinking

Sometimes moving your eyes or blinking rapidly can also help.

A study has shown that a specific eye movement exercise may help. When a hallucination starts, look from left to right about once every second for 15 – 30 seconds, without moving your head. As a guide to how far to move your eyes, imagine two points about a metre (three feet) apart on a wall in front of you and look from one point to the other when standing about a metre and a half away (five feet). Your eyes should be held open during the movements. If the hallucination continues, have a rest for a few seconds and try another 15 – 30 seconds of looking left and right. If you’ve tried four or five times and the hallucination is still there, then it’s unlikely to work, but you may want to try again another time or when you have a different type of hallucination.

Relaxation or mindfulness

Some people find that their CBS hallucinations are worse when they’re tired or stressed. It is important to make sure you have enough sleep at night and have time to relax.

Familiarise yourself with the images

Sometimes it can help to get to know your hallucinations so that you become familiar with them. You may find that this means the hallucinations become less frightening and easier to cope with. This could mean you have some control over the way you feel about the images you are seeing.

Food supplements

The addition of real ginger or Omega 3 in your diet has been found to be helpful by some people but it is important that you check with your GP before trying this because this can interfere with some medications.

Is it too detailed to be real?

When you see something that is frightening or makes you unsure, ask yourself “Is this too detailed to be real?” The fact that the image is detailed and vivid compared with the way you usually see, is a clue that this is an hallucination. As well as these general points, here are a few more tips which may help you deal with certain types of hallucinations.

Dealing with hallucinations of space

Your hallucinations may change the shape of streets and rooms. For instance, your hallucinations might suddenly make it look like there is a wall or fence in front of you and you may have to check if this is real. This can make you lose confidence when walking around and it may take you longer to get out and about.

If you experience hallucinations like this, reach out and check the area around you before you move. Using a cane or walking stick to do this is useful. Moving slowly, feel around for what is real and what is not. Having a good knowledge of your surroundings can also help with these kinds of hallucinations.

Dealing with hallucinations of people

Hallucinations of people can be frightening, particularly if they’re inside your home. Often the images are of very small people or people in costumes, these can be easier to recognise as hallucinations than if the figure is in ordinary clothes. Having a good idea of when you’re likely to have real people visiting you will help in making you feel secure in your home or your surroundings.

Dealing with hallucinations of animals

Hallucinations of animals are also very common. Often people describe animals on their chairs or in their bed. Sometimes this can be very upsetting, especially if you aren’t keen on a particular type of animal.

You can try using touch to make sure that the animals are hallucinations, and sometimes reaching out towards the hallucination may cause them to disappear.

“There’s no cure for Charles Bonnet, but I’ve learned techniques that help me to cope with it – for example moving my eyes from right to left or blinking swiftly may help to alleviate some hallucinations for a short period. Distractions like listening to audiobooks can also be helpful.” - Bee

Page last reviewed: Oct. 12, 2022

Next review due: June 1, 2024

Charles Bonnet syndrome (2024)
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