Hallucinations are sensations that appear real but are
created by your mind. They can affect all five of your senses. For example, you
might hear a voice that no one else in the room can hear or see an image that
isn’t real. These symptoms may be caused by mental illness, the side effects of
medications, or physical illnesses like epilepsy or alcoholism. You may need to
visit a psychiatrist, a neurologist, or a general practitioner depending on the
cause of your hallucinations. Treatment may include taking medication to cure a
physical or mental illness. Your doctor may also recommend adopting healthier
behaviors like drinking less alcohol and getting more sleep.
Hallucinations may affect your vision, sense of smell, taste,
hearing, or bodily sensations.
Visual hallucinations involve seeing things that aren’t there.
The hallucinations may be of objects, visual patterns, people, or lights. For
example, you might see a person who is not in the room or flashing lights that
no one else can see.
Olfactory hallucinations involve your sense of smell. You
might smell an unpleasant odor when waking up in the middle of the night or
feel that your body smells bad when it doesn’t. This type of hallucination can
also include scents you find enjoyable, like the smell of flowers.
Gustatory hallucinations are similar to olfactory
hallucinations, but they involve your sense of taste instead of smell. These
tastes are often strange or unpleasant. Gustatory hallucinations (often with a
metallic taste) are a relatively common symptom for people with epilepsy.
Auditory hallucinations are among the most common type of
hallucination. You might hear someone speaking to you or telling you to do
certain things. The voice may be angry, neutral, or warm. Other examples of
this type of hallucination include hearing sounds, like someone walking in the
attic or repeated clicking or tapping noises.
Tactile hallucinations involve the feeling of touch or
movement in your body. For example, you might feel that bugs are crawling on
your skin or that your internal organs are moving around. You might also feel
the imagined touch of someone’s hands on your body.
As the name implies, temporary hallucinations are not
chronic. For example, they may occur if a relationship has just ended or if
someone dear to you has just passed away. You might hear the person’s voice for
a moment or briefly see his or her image. This type of hallucination typically disappears
as the pain of your loss fades.
Mental illnesses are among the most common causes of
hallucinations. Schizophrenia, dementia, and delirium are a few examples.
Substance abuse is another fairly common cause of
hallucinations. Some people see or hear things that aren’t there after drinking
too much alcohol or taking drugs like cocaine. Hallucinogenic drugs like LSD
and PCP can also cause you to hallucinate.
Not getting enough sleep can also lead to hallucinations. You
may be more prone to hallucinations if you haven’t slept in multiple days or
don’t get enough sleep over long periods of time.
Certain medications taken for mental and physical conditions
can also cause hallucinations. Parkinson’s disease, depression, psychosis, and
epilepsy medications may trigger hallucination symptoms.
Other conditions can also cause hallucinations. These causes
- terminal illnesses, such as
AIDS, brain cancer, or kidney and liver failure
- high fevers, especially in
children and the elderly
- social isolation,
particularly in older adults
- deafness, blindness, or
- epilepsy (in some cases,
epileptic seizures can cause you to see flashing shapes or bright spots)
are hallucinations diagnosed?
The best thing to do is to call your doctor right away if
you suspect that your perceptions aren’t real. Your doctor will ask about your
symptoms and perform a physical exam. Additional tests might include a blood or
urine test and perhaps a brain scan.
If you know someone who is hallucinating, don’t leave him or
her alone. Fear and paranoia triggered by hallucinations can lead to dangerous
actions or behaviors. Stay with the person at all times and go with them to the
doctor for emotional support. You may also be able to help answer questions
about their symptoms and how often they occur.
are hallucinations treated?
Your doctor will be able to recommend the best form of
treatment for you once he or she figures out what is causing your
Treatment for your hallucinations will depend entirely on
their underlying cause. For example, if you are hallucinating due to severe
alcohol withdrawal, your doctor might prescribe medication that slows down your
nervous system. However, if hallucinations are caused by Parkinson’s disease in
a person with dementia, this same type of medication may not be beneficial. An
accurate diagnosis is very important for treating the condition effectively.
Counseling might also be part of your treatment plan. This
is particularly true if the underlying cause of your hallucinations is a mental
health condition. Speaking with a counselor can help you get a better
understanding of what is happening to you. A counselor can also help you
develop coping strategies, particularly for when you are feeling scared or
can I expect in the long term?
Recovery from hallucinations depends on the cause. If you
are not sleeping enough or you are drinking too much, these behaviors can be
If your condition is caused by a mental illness, like
schizophrenia, taking the right medications can improve your hallucinations
significantly. By seeing a doctor immediately and following a treatment plan,
you are more likely to have a positive long-term outcome.