11 Mar 2011, 11:00am

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Flashes and Paisley Prints

Flashes and Paisley Prints
By Kate Chamberlin
During the mid-1980’s, as I was going blind, I experienced numerous episodes of dark blobs and strings meandering in my eyes. I resisted the impulse to try to catch “the flies”, as they sometimes appeared to be. The doctors labeled the blobs: Floaters and said some floaters are common and natural in even healthy eyes.
When I told my eye doctors about the flashes, spirals and swirling crescents, they would pat my shoulder and say: I’ve heard of that in a few patients, but I don’t know what is happening.
I didn’t tell the doctors about the images of paisley prints, but I often thought I’d love to be able to transfer the unique patterns and colors I experienced onto fabric for clothing and drapes, and even wallpaper. Sometimes the pattern was more a hounds-tooth in vivid colors, but my favorite was the paisley patterns.

I recently found out that the flashes have a name: photopsia. It is defined as: a subjective sensation of lights, sparks or colors due to electrical or mechanical stimulation of the ocular system.
Now there is also a name for my beautiful patterns: Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS). Charles Bonnet, an 18th century Swiss naturalist and philosopher, is credited as the first person to describe the syndrome. Like his grandfather, who had low vision and saw men, women, birds and buildings he knew were not there, Charles experienced similar phantom visions when his own vision deteriorated around 1760.
it is more likely to appear if you have visual acuity between 20/120 and 20/400. If your vision falls within these parameters, your eyes still have a great deal of power, even though they aren’t receiving or sending as many images as previously. when retinal cells become impaired and are no longer able to receive and relay visual images to the brain, the visual system begins firing off images on its own. Hallucinatory episodes can vary in duration from seconds to hours, and the symptoms can be present from days to years.
Charles Bonnet Syndrome is no more than a side effect of vision loss. The six criteria for Charles Bonnet Syndrome (outlined by Naville in 1873 – and still applicable today) can help you determine whether or not you are experiencing phantom vision. Ask yourself whether the images you see have the following six characteristics:
“1. They occur when you are fully conscious and wide awake, often during broad daylight.

2. They do not deceive you; you are aware that they are not real.
3. They occur in combination with normal perception. For example, you may see a sidewalk clearly but find it covered with dots, flowers, or faces.
4. They are exclusively visual and do not appear in combination with any sounds or bizarre sensations.
5. They appear and disappear without obvious cause.
6. They are amusing or annoying but not grotesque.
There is no known cure or treatment, but it is important for you and others to know you’re not crazy!

Since ophthalmology has paid so little attention to Charles Bonnet Syndrome, many doctors don’t realize how common it really is, and some may not be familiar with it at all.
Oh, dear Gussie! You can bet MY doctors are going to hear about this syndrome!
SOURCES: (1) The Complete Guide to Saving and Maximizing Your Sight, written by Lylas G. Mogk, MD, and A4arja Mogk, PhD, Published by The Ballantine Publishing Group (2003).
(2) excerpt from the Fall 2004 Newsletter from the Lighthouse International, NY, NY: “I See Purple Flowers Everywhere: The Many Visions of Charles Bonnet Syndrome’ by Lylas G. Mogk, MD, and Marja Mogk, PhD; with Carol J. Sussman-Skalkal CSW, MBA.
(3) web-site hits: American Foundation for the Blind and Royal National Institute of the blind; October 6, 2004.
(A version of this article first appeared in my column Cornucopia on 10/20/2004 Wayne County STAR Newspaper; and Matilda Magazine, March, 2011.

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