Charles Bonnet syndrome is a condition where you see things that are not real (hallucinations). It can happen if you've lost a lot of your sight. It's not caused by a mental health problem or dementia.
Check if it's Charles Bonnet syndrome
The main symptom of Charles Bonnet syndrome is seeing things that are not real (hallucinations) after losing a lot of your sight.
The hallucinations can:
- be patterns such as shapes or lines
- be of people, animals, objects or places
- be moving or still
- be in black and white or colour
- happen suddenly
- last for a few minutes or several hours
The hallucinations are only things you see. You do not hear, smell or feel things that are not there.
Most people with Charles Bonnet syndrome know the hallucinations are not real.
Urgent advice: Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if:
- you or someone else have hallucinations
It's important to rule out more serious conditions that cause hallucinations.
You can call 111 or get help from 111 online.
Treatments for Charles Bonnet syndrome
There's currently no cure for Charles Bonnet syndrome, but over time the hallucinations usually happen less often.
If you're finding the hallucinations upsetting, speak to a GP.
They can refer you for talking therapy that can help with hallucinations.
Things you can do to help with Charles Bonnet syndrome
There's some things you can try when a hallucination starts that may make it go away.
turn on the lights or move somewhere lighter if it's dark when you have a hallucination
turn off the lights or move somewhere darker if it's light when you have a hallucination
move your eyes from left to right without moving your head – do this 15 to 30 times, then pause and repeat a few times
stand up and move around
watch TV or listen to the radio
reach out to touch the hallucination
Other things that can help
There are some other things that can help if you have Charles Bonnet syndrome, such as:
- making sure you're well rested and are getting enough sleep at night – the hallucinations may be worse when you're tired or stressed
- using bright light bulbs in your home and using a magnifying device to make things bigger when you need to – making use of the sight you have may help the hallucinations happen less often
- getting regular eye tests – an optician can check for further changes in your eyes and give you advice about how to make the best use of the sight you have
A GP, optician or ophthalmologist (eye doctor) can refer you to a specialist low-vision service for advice about things to help with your sight.
Causes of Charles Bonnet syndrome
Charles Bonnet syndrome is linked to vision loss.
When you lose your sight, your brain gets less information from your eyes than it's used to. Your brain sometimes makes up for this by creating hallucinations.
Not everyone who loses their sight will get Charles Bonnet syndrome. You're more likely to get it if:
- your sight suddenly gets worse
- you lose sight in both eyes
Charles Bonnet syndrome is not caused by a mental health problem or dementia.
Help and support
There are some charities and organisations that provide information and support for people with Charles Bonnet syndrome.
Page last reviewed: 17 November 2022
Next review due: 17 November 2025