Charles Bonnet syndrome: symptoms of condition Coronation Street’s Johnny Connor has - and is there a treatment?

The condition can cause hallucinations due to deterioration in vision and affects 100,000 people in the UK

Wednesday, 17th February 2021, 12:17 pm

Coronation Street fans have been gripped by the storyline of character Johnny Connor experiencing hallucinations while inside prison.

Played by actor Richard Hawley, Connor has been diagnosed with Charles Bonnet syndrome, a surprisingly common condition which affects people with sight loss.

The diagnosis can be difficult to determine, but there are telling signs and understanding the condition can help alleviate worries and distress.

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Corrie's Johnny Connor has been diagnosed with Charles Bonnet Syndrome (Picture: ITV)

So, what is Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS) and can it be treated? This is what you need to know.

What is Charles Bonnet syndrome?

Charles Bonnet Syndrome is a condition that causes hallucinations in people with deteriorating eyesight.

It is caused when the brain doesn’t receive enough information about what is happening externally. , This causes the brain to create its own images to counterbalance what is missing from the picture.

The hallucinations are often pictures a person’s brain has subconsciously stored over the years.

They can be of good or bad things, or both. People who are undiagnosed with CBS may become unnerved, scared or confused by the hallucinations as they can seem incredibly realistic.

CBS generally occurs in older people, as they are most at risk of visual impairment and age-related macular (eye) degeneration.

What are the symptoms?

It is important to note that CBS is not linked to hearing related hallucinations or any other mental disorder or unwarranted behaviours.

The hallucinations are caused entirely by deteriorating eyesight and come in two forms:

- simple repeated patterns which may appear as shapes, lines or grids in vivid colours

- complex images of people, objects or landscapes, not usually of people or animals from their own life

The hallucinations can appear as part of a bigger picture if the person still has some vision, while they can also appear as an entire picture and block any sight of what the person should actually be seeing.

Hallucinations do not tend to be of past experiences or historical events.

If you or someone you care for is experiencing hallucinations, you should always seek medical advice from a professional.

The NHS website also notes that hallucinations can sometimes occur out of the blue, and can last for a few minutes or several hours, they may be moving or static.

How common is CBS?

The UK macular society suggests around one in two people with macular degeneration, a gradual loss of central vision, may experience Charles Bonnet hallucinations.

Around 100,000 people in the UK are currently living with CBS, which is most likely to occur if you have visual impairment in both eyes.

Though it can affect anyone in the UK, older people and those who suddenly lose their sight are most likely to experience visual hallucinations.

Can Charles Bonnet Syndrome be treated?

Currently, there is no cure for CBS but knowing you have it can be a great help in understanding and living with the condition.

When first experiencing the hallucinations, it can be difficult to get around and feel safe in your environment.

Doctors suggest reaching out to touch what is in front of you to determine how close it is and if it is real, as long as you are familiar with your surroundings and know you are safe.

Hallucinations should also reduce over time, becoming less frequent and lasting a shorter period of time.

Getting enough sleep could reduce the frequency of the hallucinations, as could keeping active.

If you feel your situation is getting worse, you may need to have your eyes re-tested.

If other symptoms such as hearing hallucinations, forgetfulness or mental illness arise, you should seek further medical examination as hallucinations can also be associated with Alzheimer’s disease, which is also common in older people.