All You Need to Know about Hallucinations
Hallucinations are real perceptual sensations in the absence of an actual external stimulus. They are often bright and strong. Unlike dreaming, hallucinations occur when we are awake. These are different from illusions. An illusion is a twisted perception of a real object.
Hallucinations are common in people with psychiatric conditions, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, but you don't need to have a mental illness to experience hallucinations.
Types of Hallucinations
Seeing things that don't actually exist are associated with visual hallucinations. Simple visual hallucinations are formless visual hallucinations, i.e. seeing lights, geometric shapes, colors, and some non-discrete objects in the absence of a real stimulus. Complex hallucinations are realistic images of objects, animals and people.
Smelling odors that aren't really present are called olfactory hallucinations, also known as "phantosmia". Common odors include smells such as rotten fish, feces, smoke, cooking food, floral odors, etc.
The perception of sound without any actual sound is called auditory hallucination or "paracusia". Auditory hallucinations are the most common type of hallucinations that can be simple or complex. Sounds like whistling, hissing, etc. are simple hallucinations. Complex hallucinations involve hearing music, voices and conversations in which the voice heard can be friendly or aggressive, from known or unknown people, and also be unclear.
The false feeling of physical contact with an imaginary object is called a tactile hallucination. Tactile hallucinations can include the sensation of an insect or small animals crawling over the body, or the sensation of being kissed.
Gustatory hallucinations are sensations of tasting something in the absence of anything being tasted. Usually these hallucinations have an unpleasant taste such as rotten eggs, vomit, etc. This condition is generally found in temporal lobe epilepsy.
Proprioceptive Hallucinations is the feelingof the limbs being in a different place from the physical body. Experiences such as sailing, rising up from the ground or rolling on the floor are some examples of proprioceptive hallucinations.
Feeling unbalanced after getting a ride is an example of an equilibrium hallucination. This is commonly seen in conditions such as schizophrenia, brain damage, brain tumors, and depression.
Intentional and unexplained pain sensations without any external stimulus or other systemic cause is called nociceptive hallucinations. This is often seen in bipolar disorder.
People who are under the influence of drugs such as depressants, alcohol and entheogenic drugs usually suffer from impaired perception of time.
Symptoms of Hallucinations
Hallucinations can have different types of symptoms, depending on the type, including-
- Feeling sensations in the body (sensation of crawling on the skin or movement).
- Hearing noises (such as music, footsteps, or knocking on doors).
- Hearing voices (may include positive or negative voices, such as voices telling you to hurt yourself or others).
- Seeing objects, creatures, patterns or light.
- Smelling (may be pleasant or unpleasant in one or both nostrils).
- Tasting (often metallic taste).
Causes of Hallucinations
Hallucinations can be caused by a variety of factors and conditions -
- Under the influence of alcohol, drugs such as cocaine, marijuana, LSD and heroin.
- Conditions such as delirium and dementia.
- High fever, especially in children.
- Psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and major depression.
- Serious diseases such as kidney failure, liver failure, brain tumors, etc.
- Brainstem lesions and tumors.
- A person with narcolepsy may have hallucinations that are different from their dreams.
- Some drugs cause hallucinations such as those prescribed for depression, psychosis, epilepsy and Parkinson's disease.
- Late stages of diseases such as cancer and AIDS.
- Social isolation.
How to Help People who Have Hallucinations?
- Call the person's name gently and be with them.
- Ask them to tell you what they are seeing or feeling. Don't deny what they're talking about.
- Ask if there is anything you can do to help them?
- Assure the person that the noise or other stimulus will disappear soon.
- Distract the person from this feeling in a very gentle way and make them feel relaxed.
- Don't argue with them or calmly tackle the situation.
Treatment for Hallucinations
Treating hallucinations involves treating the underlying cause, which can be organic or psychiatric. Several measures can be taken to treat or prevent hallucinations. Antipsychotics may be prescribed for severe hallucinations.
- Stress management, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep are some simple measures that can help prevent hallucinations.
- Drugs causing hallucinations, such as cocaine, LSD, etc., should be gradually reduced and discontinued. Rehabilitation programs can help people overcome alcohol and drug addiction.
- Educating and advising patients and families on how to manage hallucinations can be helpful.
- Some antipsychotic drugs, such as olanzapine and risperidone, are prescribed to treat hallucinations.
When to see a doctor?
It is advisable to consult a doctor after any hallucinations, even if there are no other symptoms. It is especially important to get medical help if a person has a medical condition that can cause hallucinations, experience worsening hallucinations, or other changes in mood or behavior.
Not all hallucinations require treatment. Hallucinations are not a medical emergency, but only a doctor can determine if it is a serious health problem or not.