Experiencing Visual Hallucinations As A Result Of Macular Degeneration

As you age, it is relatively common to experience natural vision deterioration as a result of macular degeneration or other diseases of the eye. What you may not know, however, is that anywhere from 10 to 40 percent of individuals with vision loss also experience simple or complex visual hallucinations. Whether out of fear or shame, many patients keep their hallucinations a secret and worry that they are "losing their minds" in silence, but this condition, known as Charles Bonnet Syndrome, is a visual problem and not a psychological one. Recognizing these hallucinations and learning how to minimize their impact on your life can significantly improve your daily quality of life and peace of mind. 

Recognizing Visual Hallucinations

Most people with Charles Bonnet Syndrome are able to recognize their hallucinations quickly, which is further evidence that the condition is not a mental disorder. They tend to appear in blurry areas of your vision and may be startlingly realistic, though they often feature fantastical illusions like animals wearing clothes. Hallucinations of people and objects are also common. The good news is that these hallucinations are typically pleasant, particularly once you have been reassured that they are not a sign of a greater problem. 

Understanding Why Hallucinations Accompany Eye Disease

Your eyes rely on your brain to process and filter the information they gather. When those communications break down, however, your brain may attempt to overcompensate for the lost or blurry areas of your field of view. Hallucinations tend to occur most often in dim lighting, when your vision is impaired even further. Essentially, with nothing better to do, the brain cells responsible for interpreting imagery that you see begin to make things up to explain the empty spaces. This is a natural neurological response similar to the phantom limbs amputees report feeling for months or even years after losing a limb.

Dealing With Your Visual Hallucinations

Unfortunately, beyond treating the underlying condition causing your vision loss, there is little that can be done to treat these hallucinations. When you experience them, it may help to stand up and walk around or blink and move your eyes rapidly. The extra influx of sensory information is often enough to break the hallucination. Over time, many patients report that their hallucinations subside on their own, likely a product of the brain adjusting to its new vision impairments. Until then, dealing with these visual artifacts with a sense of humor and acceptance is the best way to handle Charles Bonnet Syndrome, but you should still schedule an examination with your ophthalmologist to ensure that everything that can be done to slow your visual deterioration is being done. Contact a doctor, such as Jo Johnson, M.D., for more information.