It’s been an eye opening week as many Canadians are learning that what you see isn’t always a true reflection of reality.
Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS) is a medical condition that causes your eyes to play tricks on you, otherwise known as visual hallucinations. CBS is experienced by 1 in 5 people who’ve experienced some form of vision loss, such as cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy.
You might be asking yourself “who is Charles Bonnet”? Charles Bonnet was a Swiss philosopher in the 1700s who documented the visual hallucinations experienced by his elderly grandfather, who also suffered from cataracts. The medical syndrome was coined almost 200 years later in the 1930s.
Those with Charles Bonnet Syndrome report visual hallucinations ranging from simple, still images to more complex scenes playing out before their eyes. This includes patterns, animals, brickwork, flowers, as well as marching soldiers, a woman in a dress sweeping, and quickly moving Oompa-Loompa figures.
University of British Columbia ophthalmologist, Dr. Mary Lou Jackson, describes Charles Bonnet Syndrome like this:
“It’s like a phantom limb sensation. If someone has their leg amputated they can sometimes still feel their toes even though they’re not there. What they have is an area of the brain that represents the toe. And we believe it’s the same with vision. You’re not getting input into a specific area of the brain where you should get vision messages. And that lack of getting the message somehow allows the brain to put an image in there.”
In other words, visual hallucinations are experienced when the brain is trying to ‘fill in the blanks’ visually when the eyes aren’t registering what it’s seeing.
Although visual hallucinations can be a surprising and scary experience, eye experts encourage people to speak up if it happens to them. While there is currently no cure for Charles Bonnet Syndrome, doctors hope that bring awareness to CBS will lead to lead to better research, diagnosis, and treatment methods.
If you’ve experienced visual hallucinations as a result of vision loss, book an appointment today to speak with our doctor of optometry.
Photo credit: http://www.charlesbonnetsyndrome.org/index.php/cbs/cbs-depictions