What are Hallucinations?
When someone hears the word Hallucinations, most of the time they think it means seeing imaginary things that are not present or which don't exist. However, the word hallucinations mean more than that. It also means touching and sometimes even smelling things which do not exist. Hallucinations have different causes. Hallucinations can be caused by schizophrenia, which is a mental illness; or Parkinson's disease, which is a nervous system disorder.
If you or someone else is suffering from hallucinations, then you need to consult a doctor immediately. Hallucinations can be controlled with treatment and treatment for Hallucinations depends on its cause.
Types of Hallucinations: How You Might Hallucinate
Visual Hallucinations: The patient sees things which do not exist, such as the patient may see someone who is not present or may visualize insects which are crawling on his/her body or on someone else's body. Visual Hallucinations can also present as flashes of light or brightly colored shapes or spots.
Olfactory Hallucinations: The patient smells things which do not exist, such as the patient thinks that some smell is coming from the surrounding area or from the patient's own body.
Auditory Hallucinations: The patient hears or senses voices or sounds coming from inside or outside his/her mind. The patient may feel that the voices are telling him/her to do something or the voices are talking to each other.
Tactile Hallucinations: The patient feels things such as being tickled even if no one is present or patient feels as if something is crawling on his/her skin or under the skin. The patient may also feel a blast of hot air when in reality no such thing occurs.
Gustatory Hallucinations: The patient tastes things which are not present, such as when the patient eats or drinks something he/she feels that it has an odd or different taste.
What are the Causes of Hallucinations?
Schizophrenia: Schizophrenia is the major cause of hallucinations, especially visual hallucinations and auditory hallucinations. Some patients with Schizophrenia may also have Gustatory and Olfactory Hallucinations.
Parkinson's Disease: About 50% of patients with Parkinson's Disease suffer from hallucinations.
Migraines: Some patients with Migraine can develop a type of visual hallucination, which is referred to as "aura," which is experienced as multicolored crescent of light.
Alzheimer's Disease & Other Types of Dementia: These conditions produce changes in the brain which can trigger hallucinations and this likelihood increases in patients with advanced diseases.
Brain Tumor: Depending on the site of the tumor, patient can experience different types of hallucinations. If the tumor is present in the region which controls vision, then patient may hallucinate about things which are not real. Patient may see shapes or spots of light. Tumors in certain parts of the brain can also cause hallucinations of taste and smell.
Charles Bonnet Syndrome: In this condition, patients having vision problems such as glaucoma, macular degeneration or cataracts have visual hallucinations. Initially, the patient may not realize that it's a hallucination, however, later on gets to know that what he/she is seeing does not exist.
Epilepsy: Seizures which the patient experiences in epilepsy increases the patient's risk for having hallucinations. The type of hallucinations depends on the part of the brain affected by the seizure.
Diagnosis of Hallucinations
The cause of hallucinations needs to be diagnosed for successful treatment of hallucinations. Patient's medical history and physical exam is done. The doctor asks the patient about his/her symptoms. Different tests are done to diagnose the problem. Electroencephalogram (EEG) is done to check for abnormal patterns of electrical activity in the patient's brain. EEG helps in identifying if seizures are the cause of hallucinations. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) helps in detecting brain tumors or stroke which could be causing hallucinations in the patient.
How are Hallucinations Treated?
Treatment of hallucinations depends on the underlying condition which is causing the hallucination and treatment usually consists of:
- Medications are prescribed for treating conditions like dementia or schizophrenia.
- Anti-seizure drugs are given if the cause of Hallucinations is epilepsy.
- Surgery, chemotherapy or radiation is done for treating tumors that cause hallucinations.
- People suffering from migraines are given drugs such as beta-blockers, triptans or anticonvulsants.
- Treatment for glaucoma, macular degeneration and cataracts is done accordingly.
- Pimavanserin is an atypical anti-psychotic which is quite effective in treating hallucinations as well as delusions which are associated with psychosis and also experienced by patients suffering from Parkinson's disease.
- Counseling sessions are also beneficial, including cognitive behavioral therapy, which targets in changing a patient's thinking and behavior and helps in managing the symptoms of the patient including hallucinations.