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What Is Phantom Vision?

An ophthalmologist examining a patient's eyes.
Damage to the optic nerve is one possible cause of seeing phantom images.
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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2014
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Phantom vision is a phenomenon that is experienced by people with a partial or complete loss of vision. Also known as Charles Bonnet syndrome, or CBS, this vision problem is earmarked by the appearance of images that are not actually there. While there is no definitive cure for this type of health problem, there are treatments that have proven helpful in some situations, allowing the individual to be free from the emotional discomfort that is sometimes caused by the hallucinations.

The phenomenon of phantom vision can be extremely troubling for those who experience it. The images can sometimes be rather benign, such as the apparent appearance of an old friend or other loved one. However, some people with phantom vision experience episodes where the images are extremely troubling in their content. Since the image cannot be blocked out, the individual suffers with the image until it begins to fade as mysteriously as it first manifested. Often, the image is so crisp and real that the individual at least momentarily believes he or she is catching a glimpse of what everyone else can see.

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Several conditions can predispose individuals to experiencing phantom vision. Gradual deterioration of the eyes that results in the development of glaucoma or loss of peripheral vision is often found among people who suffer with Charles Bonnet syndrome. This is particularly true when the loss of peripheral vision is coupled with a partial or complete loss of central vision. Damage to the optic nerves by methyl alcohol poisoning also appears to increase the chances of seeing phantom images.

While there are several potential origins for phantom vision, not everyone with these conditions will develop this type of disease. In fact, the majority of people suffering with loss of vision due to old age or some type of damage to the optic nerve never experience even a mild case. While rare, the false vision happens often enough for health care professionals to be able to diagnose the disease, and use a few different approaches to treatment.

In some cases, phantom vision disappears as quickly as it came, and requires no treatment at all. Some people respond very well to therapy, which prompts a portion of the mental health care community to determine that the origin of the problem is at least partially psychological. At times, combining the therapy with medications such as antidepressants will cause the false visions to stop. Other approaches include blinking exercises and other activities that make it easier to ignore the hallucinations.

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