Do you suffer from hallucinations? Or is anyone you know a victim of this frightening condition? Hallucinations, if not treated at the right time, might turn fatal. Now that’s something you wouldn’t want, would you?
How do hallucinations occur? And what are the ways to treat them? This post has those answers. Read on to know them.
Hallucinations – An Introduction:
Hallucinations appear to be real but are the creations of our minds. They are usually associated with mental diseases like psychosis and schizophrenia, and are also linked to degenerative neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
What is perhaps the most interesting fact about hallucinations is that they are convincingly real and are produced by the same neural pathways in the brain that are used for actual sensual perceptions. This is the reason that the blind can also experience visual hallucinations.
Another fact about hallucinations is that almost all of us experience them, especially while slipping in and out of sleep, due to extreme fatigue and under the influence of strong emotions. Though some types of temporary hallucinations are reassuring like those experienced by people after a loved one’s death, most hallucinations leave the patient scared, depressed and extremely unsettled.
The patients suffering from hallucinations are forced to believe that something strange or dangerous is happening in their minds. . This is why correct information about hallucinations is absolutely essential.
Hallucinations are of different types, like:
1. Auditory Hallucinations:
The patient hears sounds of windows and doors banging, music, footsteps, etc. He or she may also hear voices. Hearing voices is perhaps the most common type of hallucination. The patient hears voices when no one has spoken physically. These voices can be critical, complimentary, or may command the patient to do something that may be dangerous to others or the self.
According to studies, approximately 75% of people with the mental disease schizophrenia experience auditory hallucinations (1); 20% to 50% of people suffer from bipolar disorder also have them; 10% of patients suffering from depression with psychosis experience hallucinations (2), and 40% of those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder have auditory hallucinations (3).
A person hearing voices can also have symptoms such as being unable to follow actual conversations. He or she may talk to himself/herself, may isolate himself or herself from situations, and may seem preoccupied and unaware of surroundings.
2. Sensory/Tactile Hallucinations:
The patient feels bodily sensations, such as something crawling over their skin or even a movement of internal organs. He or she usually touches, scratches or brushes things off his or her body that are actually not even there.
3. Visual Hallucinations:
The patient sees lights, beings, or objects that aren’t even there. There is a visual focus on things that they can’t see.
[ Read: Remedies To Overcome Schizophrenia ]
4. Smell Hallucinations:
The patient smells odors, whether they are foul or pleasant. The patient usually sniffs and holds his/her nose.
5. Taste Hallucinations:
The patient tastes non- existent food. This most common type of hallucination is identifiable by the patient spitting out food.
What Causes Hallucinations?
There are many causes of hallucinations:
- Drug use is a major cause of hallucinations. Using alcohol or drugs like marijuana, LSD, cocaine, PCP, amphetamines, heroin, and ketamine can cause drug-induced hallucinations.
Patients can also experience hallucinations during withdrawal from alcohol or drugs, or when these substances are suddenly stopped.
Drug-induced hallucinations are usually visual, but patients can hear voices too, and it may affect their other senses. Visual hallucinations include seeing flashes of light or abstract shapes. Some patients may also see animals or a person while hallucinating. Visual distortions occur during hallucinations, and these alter the patient’s perception of the world around him.
Drug-induced hallucinations can happen spontaneously, or they can occur as a part of drug-induced psychosis. What’s even more worrying is the fact that long term substance abuse may cause schizophrenia.
- Neurological diseases like delirium and dementia are a major cause of visual hallucinations.
- Epilepsy, which involves a part of the brain called the temporal lobe, is the primary cause of odor hallucinations. Visual hallucinations are also common in patients having epileptic seizures. More often than not, patients see flashing shapes or bright spots.
- High fever, especially in children and the elderly, is another major cause of hallucinations. These hallucinations usually go away on their own.
- Narcolepsy or lack of sleep can lead to hallucinations. If a person hasn’t slept in days or does not get proper sleep over long periods of time, this can pre-dispose him or her to hallucinations.
What is perhaps not so well known is the fact that most of us hallucinate. Most people have hallucinations just as they’re falling asleep, called hypnagogic hallucinations, or as they start to wake up, called hypnopompic hallucinations.
In such hallucinations, people may hear sounds or see things that don’t exist, including faces. People sometimes even think that they have seen a ghost.
Hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations are especially common in people with narcolepsy, a serious sleep disorder. These play out like dreams and are usually nothing to worry about.
- Medications for Parkinson’s, depression, psychosis, and epilepsy can also trigger hallucinations. Various prescription medicines for these serious diseases can cause hallucinations. Older people are at a particular risk. Hallucinations due to medications can be dose-related and usually stop when one stops taking the medicine.
- Psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia, psychotic depression, dementia, and delirium are among the most common causes of hallucinations.
- Sensory issues like blindness, vision problems or deafness can cause hallucinations too. A condition called macular degeneration (4), known as Charles Bonnet syndrome, which causes loss of vision, can also predispose patients to hallucinations.
Charles Bonnet syndrome is very common among people who suffer from severe visual problems. This condition usually affects older people who suffer from blindness, but can affect anybody at any age.
Age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy are some of the main reasons behind Charles Bonnet syndrome.
Studies show that around 20 percent of people who are losing their sight or hearing are predisposed to hallucinations.
- Severe and terminal illnesses such as liver failure, kidney failure, AIDS, and brain cancer can also cause hallucinations.
- Hallucinations can also occur as a result of extreme tiredness or recent bereavement.
Diagnosis And Treatment Of Hallucinations:
A number of patients suffering from hallucinations fail to take them seriously and seek medical intervention and care. It is best to call one’s doctor immediately if one suspects that one’s perceptions are not real.
Diagnosis of hallucinations takes place on the basis of the symptoms being experienced by the patient, and a physical exam. Additional tests for confirming hallucinations include a blood or urine test and perhaps a brain scan.
It is recommended that a person who is hallucinating and is detached from reality should get medical help as soon as possible. This is where relatives and friends of the patients come in. By no means should they leave the patient alone, because he or she may become increasingly nervous, paranoid, violent, and can cause serious harm to the self or others.
What is also very important to remember is that the neurological and psychiatric conditions causing the hallucinations can quickly snowball into emergencies.
How Are Hallucinations Treated?
An accurate diagnosis is very important for treating the condition. Treatment for hallucinations depends entirely on the underlying cause. For example, if a patient is hallucinating due to severe alcohol withdrawal, the doctor might prescribe medication that slows down the nervous system. For psychosis, a psychiatric illness, the treatment may be drug like dopamine antagonists. Similarly, Parkinson’s induced hallucinations will be treated with different medicines. If a patient getting hallucinations due to alcohol withdrawal is given drugs that will stop hallucinations due to psychosis, this could prove detrimental for the patient.
2. Visual Hallucinations:
Having said that treatment of hallucinations depends on their cause, there have been cases where patients suffering from visual hallucinations can benefit from therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy that focus and change the way people think.
Psychiatrics usually prescribe antipsychotic medication for psychiatric illness caused hallucinations. Neuroleptic medications are also effective in treating visual hallucinations due to psychotic illness. These are also beneficial for the management of delirium.
Some of the other drugs useful in treating and managing hallucinations, with respect to each type of hallucination:
Antipsychotic medications like quetiapine and clozapine.
Cholinesterase inhibitors that help in improving memory, thought and judgment.
Anticonvulsant drugs, used to stabilize mood.
Brain surgery and radiation.
Triptans drugs, which work by increasing constriction of blood vessels. These also block the pain pathways in the brain. Beta blockers, drugs which are used to treat high blood pressure and coronary artery disease, are also used to lessen the severity of migraines and reduce the chances of getting migraine induced hallucinations.
3. Auditory Hallucinations:
Since auditory hallucinations occur mostly due to psychiatric illnesses, these are usually treated using antipsychotic medications. Medical practitioners also use something called ‘Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation’ or RTMS, which helps in altering neural activity in the cortex of the brain and is helpful in reducing both the frequency and severity of auditory hallucinations. Doctors use this method along with antipsychotic medication.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT, which focuses on observing and monitoring a person’s perceptions, beliefs, and reasoning, is very helpful in treating auditory hallucinations as it promotes alternative ways of coping. CBT is very effective in treating patients who hear voices.
Family therapy, where the family of the patients is counseled along with the patient, is extremely beneficial for tackling auditory hallucinations. This, along with psychological counseling, is one of the best treatments for auditory hallucinations.]
In many countries, there are support and self-help groups for people suffering from hallucinations. Research shows that such groups can significantly reduce the distress of hearing voices. Self-help groups help patients cope better with the voices in their head.
Some of the other approaches for treatment and management of hallucinations are:
Patients benefit when they manage their stress and lower their anxiety. Healthy living, regular exercise, good diet, and sleeping well go a long way in reducing the problem.
It goes without saying that substance abuse must be stopped to manage hallucinations. But if a person is experiencing hallucinations because he or she has stopped taking drugs suddenly, they can be helped by giving specific medicines to help prevent recurrence of hallucinations. Rehabilitation programs for recovery of drug and alcohol addiction go a long way in stemming hallucinations.
Hallucinations can also be managed by proper education and counselling to help the patient and his family understand and manage hallucinations better.
Psychological counseling has a big role to play in management of hallucinations, especially if the underlying cause of one’s hallucinations is a psychological and mental health condition. The role of the counselor can’t be stressed enough. It is the counselor who helps the patient understand what is happening to him and also help with coping strategies.
We have talked about the treatment of hallucinations in detail, but there is still one big question that has been left unanswered – Can hallucinations be completely cured? The answer to this one is tricky. Recovery from hallucinations is possible, but it depends on the cause of the condition. If one is getting hallucinations due to not sleeping enough or due to drinking too much, these behaviors can be adjusted. But, if the hallucinations are caused due to a mental illness, such as schizophrenia, taking medication can improve the condition significantly, but may not cure it completely.
What is in the hands of the patient and his family is the decision to see a doctor immediately and follow a treatment plan. This will help manage the condition and improve the quality of life.
Hope we were able to answer your questions on hallucinations. Do you have any other queries? Or do you know anything else about hallucinations? Please share with us in the comments section below.
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