September 28, 2023

Why You Experience Visual Hallucinations With Wet AMD

A decrease in visual signals to your brain can lead to seeing things that aren’t really there

Older person holds eyeglasses while rubbing eyes and squinting.

Macular degeneration is an age-related eye condition (also known as AMD) that changes the way you see things in your central vision. Your central vision, unlike your peripheral vision, is responsible for discerning the smallest details and focusing in on specific objects directly in front of you — like reading a book or watching the street lights change at an intersection while you’re driving.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

This condition comes in two forms: wet AMD and dry AMD. If left untreated, or if it progresses enough, you can experience significant vision loss and visual hallucinations (Charles Bonnet syndrome).

Visual hallucinations can occur with either wet or dry AMD, but it’s more prominent with wet AMD simply because this eye condition progresses far quicker than the dry condition.

If you’ve been diagnosed with wet AMD, is it a guarantee that you’ll experience visual hallucinations? And what might that experience look like? Ophthalmologist Danny Mammo, MD, explains what you might expect from hallucinations and how to handle them when they occur.

Why hallucinations happen with wet AMD

The direct cause of hallucinations is unknown, but there are theories behind why they happen when you have low vision.

Your macula, the central part of your retina, is responsible for processing what you see, and it’s the part that’s most affected by wet AMD.

“What you see gets filtered through your eye and sent to your visual cortex, the part of your brain responsible for your vision,” explains Dr. Mammo. “When there’s end-stage vision loss from an eye condition like macular degeneration that’s damaging your retina, there is a decrease in input of visual signals to the brain.”

It’s believed that this decrease in input leads to a reflexive mechanism in your visual cortex that can make it more excitable and try to fill in the gaps of what it thinks should be there.


“You get these visual hallucinations as kind of an adaptive mechanism of losing an input,” explains Dr. Mammo.

More research is needed to determine the exact mechanism at play. But studies vary and suggest hallucinations can be a common symptom for anywhere between 10% and 40% of people with wet or dry AMD who have severe loss of vision.

What do hallucinations look like?

Visual hallucinations are not real — they’re sensory experiences that happen when your eyes see something that isn’t really there. But the images can certainly feel real when they’re happening, especially if they’re happening to you for the first time.

Visual hallucinations look different for everyone, but they can appear like:

  • Flashes of light.
  • Random shapes and geometric patterns.
  • Familiar faces.
  • Real or imaginary people.
  • Real or imaginary creatures.
  • Landscapes and background details.
  • Distorted or very clear images.

“They can be in color or black-and-white, and people really feel that they’re very real in the moment,” clarifies Dr. Mammo. “These hallucinations can be anywhere from just a few seconds up to a few hours, and they can happen at random. They can happen every day for some people, or they can happen a few times a year.”

What you can do about it

Most often, these hallucinations will go away on their own.

“It helps to reassure someone that these hallucinations are not real,” states Dr. Mammo. “This is a normal physiological response to end-stage vision loss.”


Taking care of your personal health by lessening your stress and improving your sleep can help reduce the likelihood of these hallucinations, as well as help you manage them better in the moment.

If you have difficulty managing your hallucinations, try blinking, getting some sleep or making sure there’s adequate light in your environment — often, people with wet AMD have difficulty with contrast sensitivity.

“In rare cases, these hallucinations can be very distressing and can cause a lot of issues for someone if they’re not going away,” notes Dr. Mammo. “In those cases, a physician can prescribe psychiatric medications or anti-epilepsy medications to help reduce symptoms.”

When to call a doctor

If you start experiencing hallucinations with or without dry or wet AMD, you should speak to a healthcare provider who can determine their cause and help find a solution. And if you do have AMD and your hallucinations are proving distressful, it’s a good time to talk to someone about your experiences and determine what a provider can do to help manage their severity.

“If you don’t have end-stage vision loss and you start getting hallucinations, those could be early signs of a stroke. If that happens, it could be more urgent,” stresses Dr. Mammo. “But if you have severe vision loss and you start to get hallucinations, it’s usually not urgent unless they’re causing severe distress.”

Related Articles

Person lifting up their sweater, showing ostomy bag in mirror's reflection
December 6, 2023
Adjusting to Life With an Ostomy Bag: What To Expect

It can be hard to get used to the bags, but the freedom they provide is worth the challenge

Happy caucasian woman hiking in forest
December 6, 2023
Forest Bathing: What It Is and Its Potential Benefits

Immersing yourself in nature can improve both your mental and physical health

Woman looking in mirror and pulling skin until wrinkles disappear
December 6, 2023
Should You Add Collagen Supplements to Your Skin Care Routine?

Though popular with influencers and celebrities, there’s little research to back up claims that they work

A vaccine syringe in front of a passport for international travel.
December 5, 2023
Which Vaccines Are Required To Travel?

Plan early — getting the right vaccines can help you stay healthy on your travels

Person overheated lying on chair on the beach; heart rythym next to him
December 5, 2023
How the Heat Can Affect Your Heart

Sizzling temperatures force your heart to work much harder

nocovaine needle entering mouth with dental mirror
December 4, 2023
How Long Does Novocaine Last?

The numbness and tingling should wear off in about two hours

bearded man sitting crosslegged holding clock in one hand, calendar in other
December 4, 2023
Are Bare Minimum Mondays Good for Your Mental Health?

Rethinking your Mondays might make the ‘Sunday scaries’ a thing of the past

A sad couple standing on each side of a large broken heart
December 4, 2023
Yes, You Can Die From a Broken Heart — But No, It’s Not Likely at All

The emotional toll of loss and other strong emotions can have life-threatening physical effects

Trending Topics

group of hands holding different beverages
November 14, 2023
10 Myths About Drinking Alcohol You Should Stop Repeating

Coffee won’t cure a hangover and you definitely shouldn’t mix your cocktail with an energy drink

Person applies moisturizer as part of their skin care routine after a shower.
November 10, 2023
Korean Skin Care Routines: What You Need To Know

Focus on the philosophy — replenishing and respecting your skin — not necessarily the steps

glass of cherry juice with cherries on table
November 8, 2023
Sleepy Girl Mocktail: What’s in It and Does It Really Make You Sleep Better?

This social media sleep hack with tart cherry juice and magnesium could be worth a try