Visual hallucinations in patients with retinal disease

Am J Ophthalmol. 2001 May;131(5):590-8. doi: 10.1016/s0002-9394(01)00833-9.


Purpose: To investigate the prevalence and phenomenologic nature of visual hallucinations among patients with retinal disease and to investigate whether presence of hallucinations is a significant predictor of functional status, quality of life, and/or emotional distress after adjusting for visual acuity.

Design: Cross-sectional study.

Methods: Eighty-six consecutive patients at the Wilmer Ophthalmologic Institute Retinal Vascular Center were interviewed using the Sickness Impact Profile, Community Disability Scale, General Health Questionnaire, Visual Phenomena Interview, Eysenck Personality Questionnaire, and Telephone Interview for Cognitive Status.

Results: The prevalence of visual hallucinations was 15.1%. Most were formed hallucinations in clear consciousness that lasted for seconds to minutes. The majority of patients had been experiencing visual hallucinations for less than 1 year (61.5%) or for 1 to 2 years (23.1%). Only two of the 13 patients with hallucinations had informed a physician of their hallucinations. Univariate analyses revealed that variables significantly associated with experiencing hallucinations were female sex, worse visual acuity, bilateral visual impairment, emotional distress, decreased functional status, and decreased quality of life. Regression analysis demonstrated that among patients with relatively good vision, those who experienced hallucinations were more emotionally distressed and had a lower quality of life than patients without hallucinations.

Conclusions: Visual hallucinations among patients with retinal disease are common, underdiagnosed, and not associated with cognitive deficits, abnormal personality traits, or a family or personal history of psychiatric morbidity. Among patients with relatively good vision, hallucinations are associated with increased emotional distress and decreased quality of life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Hallucinations / diagnosis
  • Hallucinations / epidemiology
  • Hallucinations / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Maryland / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Quality of Life
  • Retinal Diseases / complications*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sickness Impact Profile
  • Stress, Psychological / diagnosis
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Visual Acuity