If you're like most people, there is a high chance that you think hallucinations have to do with seeing things that aren't actually there. But, there's a lot more to it than that. It could mean you touch or even smell something that doesn't exist. Naturally, there are many different causes. It could possibly be a mental illness called schizophrenia or a nervous system problem like Parkinson's disease. If you or someone close to you has a hallucination, you should definitely see a doctor. You can get treatments that help control them, but a lot depends on what's behind the issue.
Types of hallucinations
Hallucinations may affect your vision, sense of smell, taste, hearing, or bodily sensations.
Visual hallucinations -
involve seeing things that aren’t really there. They may be of objects, visual patterns, people, or lights. For instance, you might see a person who is not in the room or flashing lights that no one else sees.
Olfactory hallucinations -
involve your sense of smell. You might smell an unpleasant odor or feel that your body smells bad when it doesn’t. This type of hallucination can 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. These tastes are often strange and unpleasant. Gustatory hallucinations are a 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 perhaps warm. Other examples include hearing sounds, like someone walking in the attic or tapping noises.
Tactile hallucinations -
involve the feeling of touch or movement in your body. For instance, you might feel that bugs are crawling on your skin or that your internal organs are moving inside your body. You might also feel the touch of someone’s hands on your body that isn’t real.
Hallucinations can be frightening, but there's usually an identifiable cause. They can occur as a result of:
- taking illegal drugs or alcohol
- a mental illness, such as schizophrenia or dementia
- a progressive neurological condition, such as Alzheimer's disease or Parkinson's disease
- loss of vision caused by a condition such as macular degeneration
How are hallucinations diagnosed?
The best thing to do is to call your doctor as soon as possible 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 in any case. Fear and paranoia triggered by hallucinations can lead to dangerous actions or behaviors. Make sure to stay with the person at all times and go with them to the doctor for emotional support.
You may need a lot of tests to help identify the problem. For instance, an EEG, or electroencephalogram, checks for unusual patterns of electrical activity in your brain. It could show if your hallucinations are due to seizures. You might get an MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, which uses powerful magnets and radio waves to make pictures of structures inside your body. It can find out if a brain tumor or something else, like an area that's had a small stroke, could be causing your hallucinations.
Recovery from hallucinations depends on the cause. If you are not sleeping enough or you are drinking too much, these behaviors can be adjusted. If your condition is caused by a mental illness, taking the right medications can improve your hallucinations. By seeing a doctor immediately and following a treatment plan, you are more likely to have a positive long-term outcome.