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Hallucinations are false or distorted perceptions in the absence of a stimulus. The condition is a symptom and not a disease and has been observed among thousands of individuals since the 1800s. The experiences can be through any of the senses. Some types of hallucinations or considered normal or part of a developmental phase. Preschool children ages 2 to 5 years old usually exhibit hallucinatory experiences while a lot of adolescents and adults also present the symptom due to underlying mental disorders, drug intake or medication reaction. The problem is not considered a medical emergency although special precautions are given to some forms that may spur a person to harm himself or others.

Brain mechanisms may be affected by a variety of physical, mental and emotional factors such as trauma, stress or fatigue resulting to misperceptions between what is imagined and what is real. Hallucinations occur during periods of consciousness although some individuals are also reported to be having false perceptions during sleep. It is possible for normal individual patients to have hallucinations provided that a number of contributing factors are present. About 10% of all people worldwide have experienced having hallucinations at some point in their lives.


The signs and symptoms of hallucinations will vary depending on the type as well as the triggering factors that spurred the misperception. Auditory hallucinations are described as the patient hearing voices or sounds even when there is actually none present in the external environment. Usually, voices and sounds heard may be very familiar to a person such as the voice of a loved one who recently died. These are believed to be internal data stored or repressed in the person’s memory. Visual hallucinations are described as the patient seeing things, persons, lights or patterns even when there is nothing present. The person may believe that they are seeing ghosts or animals right in front of them.

Taste, smell and touch hallucinations are not as common but similarly, the person misperceives sensations even without external stimuli. The person may suddenly have an odd taste on his or her tongue such as sudden bitterness, tinny taste or sweetness. An example of smell hallucination is when a person suddenly discovers the scent of burning candles or fresh roses even if there is actually none of these things present around. Examples of touch hallucinations would be the person sensing that something is crawling on his or her skin. Amputees usually experience painful symptoms in absent body parts which are also known as the phantom limb phenomenon.

Hypnagogic hallucination occurs just before a person falls asleep lasting anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. The cause is said to be associated with narcolepsy or brainstem disorders. The opposite of hypnagogic hallucinations are hypnopompic hallucinations which occur when a person wakes up. Peduncular hallucinations usually occur in the evening but are not associated with drowsiness since the person is fully aware and can interact with the perceived images.


Auditory hallucinations may be caused by psychotic problems such as schizophrenia as well as biological disorders like brain stem lesions or tumors, strokes and encephalitis. Delirium tremens is a unique form of visual hallucination which stems from drug or alcohol withdrawal. Hallucinations may also occur in Parkinson’s disease, focal epilepsy and Lewy body dementia patients. Migraine coma is a type of hallucination experienced by patients who have just recovered from a comatose state lasting up to 2 days. Blind patients may experience visual hallucinations which are also known as Charles Bonnet syndrome. Patients are almost always aware that they are only hallucinating and they can reduce or make it disappear by simply opening and closing their eyelids.


Hallucination is a symptom so treatment approaches should be directed toward the underlying condition or disease for full relief. Schizophrenic patients are usually treated with antipsychotic medications such as thioridazine, haloperidol, clozapine, risperidone or chlorpromazine. Medications are actually enough to control long-term hallucinations. Some people may naturally train themselves to balance neurotransmitters in the brain without the help of drugs after some time.

A psychologist or psychiatrist may also suggest psychosocial therapy to help patients deal with the problem and help them differentiate what is real and what is false perception. It is important for health care practitioners to know what visual or auditory hallucinations are trying to tell patients since some messages may command sufferers to cause themselves or others harm. Stress-relieving techniques like exercise and occupational therapy are also good since some types of hallucinations usually disappear once stress is removed.

Individuals who experience hallucinatory effects from drug abuse will easily be free of symptoms once they stop taking substances and neurotransmitters in the brain return to normal levels. Amphetamines, LSD and PCP or phencyclidine are known to cause hallucinations. Those suffering hallucinatory effects due to drug or alcohol withdrawal should be treated according to the life-threatening effects of delirium tremens. Patients are expected to hallucinate so priority is generally placed on safety. Antidepressants and anticonvulsants may also be prescribed to patients in order to elevate dopamine and serotonin levels that may cause sudden mood swings and hallucinations when in very low concentrations. Hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations are not considered a medical emergency and are expected to subside shortly after.


Hallucinations due to substance abuse can easily be prevented by consuming little or no alcohol and harmful drugs. Know the side effects of any medication that you are taking to ensure that you will be safe against unwanted misperceptions. Stress levels should also be maintained at manageable levels. Exercise regularly, eat a healthy and nutritious diet, get lots of sleep and rest and find means of leisure and recreational activity every now and then. Always maintain good mental and emotional health. People should find ways of coping and dealing with different types of problems to avoid depression. Psychiatric disorders actually stem from environmental factors most of the time. Biological causes like tumors and lesions do not have a definite preventive measure.

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