16 Causes of Visual Hallucinations

What are Visual Hallucinations?

Visual hallucination is a condition where a person sees or visualizes something which does not actually exist. Visual hallucinations can be very stressful and not to mention a very scary experience and is often a sign of some underlying medical problem. You should immediately consult your doctor if you are experiencing visual hallucinations.

16 Causes of Visual Hallucinations

There are many causes for Visual Hallucinations which range from mental/psychological issues to the manner of sleeping to some other diseases. Some of the causes for Visual Hallucinations are:

  1. Visual Hallucinations Caused by Alzheimer’s Disease & Dementia: Visual hallucinations can occur in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Lewy body dementia is a brain disorder where the patient has visual hallucinations where there is complete enactment of scenes before the patient’s eyes.
  2. Alcohol & Illegal Drugs: Heavy alcohol consumption and some street drugs, such as cocaine, ecstasy and LSD can cause visual hallucinations, which can be anything from flashes of light to visualizing people. A person upon quitting these substances after prolonged use can have same type of visual hallucinations.
  3. Brain Tumors: Not every patient having brain tumor experiences visual hallucinations. Visual hallucinations in brain tumor occur when the tumor presses the part of the brain, which deals with vision that can result in the patient experiencing lifelike scenes.
  4. Anton’s Syndrome: This rare medical condition is characterized by the patient going blind and not admitting to it. Other people become aware of this condition only after the patient has run or bumps into something and makes far-fetched explanations for it.
  5. Epilepsy: Visual hallucinations in epilepsy occur depending on the part of the brain, which generates the seizures. Patient commonly sees simpler images, such as flashing shapes or brightly colored spots; however, visual hallucinations could be more complex also.
  6. Delirium: Delirium is a condition where the patient is confused and can’t think clearly or focus. Causes of delirium include infections, certain drugs and other medical conditions. Patient can experience visual hallucinations when delirious.
  7. Acute Stress: Severe stress and strong emotions have a big impact on a person’s health and can cause visual hallucinations. A common example of visual hallucinations occurring as a result of intense stress is seeing a loved one after his/her recent death.
  8. Infections & High Fevers: Certain infections, such as meningitis, can trigger visual hallucinations as one of its symptoms. Visual hallucinations can also occur with high fever, which sometimes occurs in children.
  9. Charles Bonnet Syndrome: This condition commonly affects older adults with severe eyesight problems, such as cataracts, macular degeneration or glaucoma. In this syndrome, visual hallucinations can present as rich scenes filled with animals and people.
  10. Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD): This is a rare and fatal brain condition commonly affecting older adults. Visual hallucinations in this condition affects how the patient sees shapes and colors.
  11. Mental Illness: Visual hallucinations and other types of hallucinations are common in schizophrenia. Some other mental disorders, which can cause visual hallucinations are: bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, borderline personality disorder, schizoaffective disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  12. Migraines: In migraines, visual hallucinations take place in the manner of aura. Around 1 in 3 patients with migraines get auras, which can start as a flickering that grows into a “C” or crescent shape with a zig-zag edge.
  13. Visual Hallucinations Caused by Parkinson’s Disease: Around 50% of patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease suffer from hallucinations including visual hallucinations. Majority of the times, these visual hallucinations are not threatening in nature and are often like watching a movie.
  14. Visual Hallucinations Occurring as a Result of Side Effects from Medicines: Visual hallucinations can occur as a side effect of some medicines, which is usually due to the dosage and commonly affects older adults. Visual hallucinations are more likely to occur if the patient takes multiple or different types of medications.
  15. Sleep Problems: Imagining or seeing things as soon as you wake up or just as you are falling asleep is common and not often a cause for concern. Patient may see a moving person or an object in a dreamy haze. This is more likely to happen if the person suffers from sleep disorders, such as insomnia or narcolepsy.
  16. Thyroid Disease: Visual hallucinations can occur in myxedema, which is a rare condition of severe hypothyroidism leading to several problems such as visual hallucinations to slipping into a coma.

How are Visual Hallucinations Diagnosed?

The doctor will conduct a physical exam of the patient and will ask various questions regarding the type of visual hallucinations, the onset of visual hallucinations, the images in visual hallucinations, the time of visual hallucinations, other symptoms with visual hallucinations etc.

Other tests which are done for diagnosis of the cause of visual hallucinations are: Blood tests, eye exam, electroencephalogram (EEG), MRI scan etc.

What is the Treatment for Visual Hallucinations?

Treatment for visual hallucinations depends on the condition, which is triggering the hallucinations. Once the cause is treated, the visual hallucinations tend to abate completely.

If the cause of visual hallucinations is certain medicine, then the doctor will adjust or change the dose of the medicine or switch to a different medicine. In case of visual hallucinations occurring due to brain tumor, patient may need surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. In case of a mental illness causing visual hallucinations, patient needs treatment from a psychiatrist which includes medicines and therapy.

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