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If you’ve ever seen a clown jumping up and down in your peripheral vision, or maybe a cow, penguin or elephant in your living room, you may have Charles Bonnet syndrome.

What is Charles Bonnet syndrome?

The syndrome is named after naturalist Charles Bonnet who in 1760 was first to describe the symptom of phantom images from people who have vision loss.

It’s a phenomenon where the mind fills in the gaps of what may be missing in vision with a range of images.

Scott Muirden from the Charles Bonnet Syndrome Foundation Australia said the images each person experiences varies enormously, from very elementary forms of patterns to more elaborate scenes of houses, landscapes and people.

There is a common denominator though.

“The images are all extraordinarily clear, detailed, vivid and incredibly compelling and life like. All the qualities of what people enjoyed before. It may have been years since the person has seen images with such detail,” Scott said.

Scott also said there are three main characteristics of the syndrome:

  • Accompanied by vision loss
  • Images are recurrent
  • The person understands what they see is not real.

The final point can be a grey area if people haven’t realised they have vision loss as yet.

Why isn’t it more widely known?

"People don’t want to talk about this as they think they sound crazy. They’re already trying coming to terms with vision loss and all that entails. And then they’re subjected to these images which make no sense to them,” Scott said.

There’ a wider issue at play in that so few eye specialists are unfamiliar with the syndrome. However, neuro-ophthalmology is a specialised area for the treatment of visual disturbances.

Can Charles Bonnet syndrome be treated?

Although there is no cure or treatment for Charles Bonnet syndrome, simply knowing why people are experiencing phantom images can help.

For further information and assistance regarding the syndrome visit the Charles Bonnet Foundation Australia

You can listen to an interview with Scott Muirden with Vision Australia Radio’s Studio 1

Vision Australia provides support and services to people of all ages and stages of life who are blind or have low vision. Contact us today on 1300 84 74 66 or email [email protected].