What do these three images have in common?
A blue and white striped towel flapping in the wind;
A cross between a Marvin and a Dennis-the-Menace comic strip;
Two rows of multi-coloured Pontiac Sunfires parked facing each other with their hoods popped up.
These are a few of the images that I see as the result of Charles Bonnet Syndrome or CBS.
CBS refers to symptoms of visual hallucinations experienced by people with vision loss. My neuroophthamologist described it like, "it's your brain trying to see". It can be compared to phantom limb pain, a condition experienced by a person who has recently lost an limb.
According to research, it is estimated that 30 to 60 per cent of people with significant vision loss will experience CBS. Some people with CBS may be reluctant to tell family members or practitioners for fear of being diagnosed with a psychological illness.
I started experiencing visual hallucinations soon after losing my vision. Research indicates that the condition usually decreases in frequency after 12 to 18 months. For me, it has been over 18 years. The images I see may appear for a couple of seconds or minutes. Some people may have an image that appears for several hours.
People with CBS may experience a wide variety of hallucinations, including lines, light flashes, geometric shapes or more complex patterns or images of people, animals or scenes (e.g., cartoon images). The hallucinations will often disappear if they close their eyes and look away, change position or make a change to their environment (e.g., turning lights on).
Some people are bothered by these images. . Personally, I enjoy these moments when I can "see". I find myself staring at the vivid colours and details. But, I also find it distracting if the image appears when I am trying to concentrate on a conversation. Likewise, it can be distracting if an image of trees appears in front of mme when I am traveling down the sidewalk.
If you experience visual hallucinations, don't worry – You have lots of company!