Newcastle Eye Centre

Charles Bonnet Syndrome

Do you see things that aren’t really there?

Visual hallucinations in patients with impaired vision - Charles Bonnet Syndrome

What is Charles Bonnet Syndrome ?

Many people with visual impairment see things that are not really there (hallucinations). This is called Charles Bonnet syndrome. This does not happen to everyone with sight impairment. These hallucinations can occur in people with mild sight impairment as well as those who are totally blind. They can affect people of any age and most commonly occur while the brain is adjusting to new visual impairment. The hallucinations may appear and disappear or be recurrent and they often stop in time.

The cause of Charles Bonnet syndrome is not known but may be due to the brain trying to ‘fill in’ the missing vision.

What kind of things do people see whilst having hallucinations?

Hallucinations can contain nearly anything you can think of - patterns, colours, people, animals, objects or places. They can appear in normal size, or be smaller or bigger than usual and may be pleasant or sometimes scary. Usually pictures appear out of the blue and can continue for minutes to hours.

Don’t only ‘mad’ people see things?

People often keep quiet about their hallucinations for fear that others will think they are losing their minds. It is important to realise that visual impairment on its own is a common reason for hallucinations.

Is there a cure for Charles Bonnet Syndrome?

It is not easy to get rid of the hallucinations and there is no established cure for Charles Bonnet Syndrome. However, many people find they cease to be troubled by what they are seeing and the hallucinations often stop in time. Understanding more about the cause, knowing that they are common in people with visual impairment and not a sign of insanity, can be reassuring for people experiencing them.

Some suggestions for coping with hallucinations:

  • Make sure that your vision is as good as it can be – use up-to-date glasses and good lighting.
  • Talk to others about your hallucinations – telling your family, friends, GP and eye doctor can help.
  • Keep socially active ie meet/ talk to others.

When hallucinations occur:

  • Tell yourself that the hallucinations are not real and will stop shortly.
  • Tell others what you are seeing so they can reassure you it is not real.
  • Try to ignore the hallucinations, do not focus on them.
  • Look away from the hallucination towards another object, go to another room.
  • If hallucinations occur at night, try a night light.

If you are distressed by your hallucinations:

  • Discuss this with your GP - referral to an expert (counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist) for support and practical help such as self-help techniques can help you cope.

Other sources of support

RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) offers support to people with sight problems and can put you in touch with local support groups.

  • 105 Judd St, London WC1H 9NE.
  • RNIB helpline tel: 0303 123 9999

The Partially Sighted Society is able to give advice on coping with sight loss and they can be contacted at

  • 7 - 9 Bennetthorpe, Doncaster, South Yorkshire DN2 6AA
  • Tel: 0844 477 4966

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