What are Tactile Hallucinations?
Tactile hallucinations are a type of hallucinations, which involves the touch, where the patient feels false or abnormal sensation of touch or a false perception of movement inside the body or on the skin, which does not actually exist in reality. The cause of tactile hallucinations is often mental disorders or the use or side effects of some medications.
Brief Facts on Tactile Hallucinations
- Tactile hallucinations occur as a result of some neurological conditions or some medicines which affect the central nervous system.
- Tactile hallucinations can also occur when certain medicines affect the neurotransmitters of the brain.
- Tactile hallucinations can be a symptom of more than one medical condition.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps in combating the symptoms of hallucinations.
- Some patients can experience different types of hallucinations at the same time.
What are the Symptoms of Tactile Hallucinations?
Tactile hallucinations are characterized by the sensation of movement or touch without any known cause and this is the difference between tactile hallucinations and other form of hallucinations. In tactile hallucinations, the patient feels uncomfortable, unpleasant and disturbing sensations. Some patients may feel as if there are bugs crawling over their body or as if there is something inside them, which is trying to get out. Some patients feel that something is turning in their skull or stomach; or as if their organs are shifting inside. In some cases of tactile hallucinations, the patient may feel some harmless and even pleasant sensations. Tactile hallucinations in Parkinson’s disease appear as a feeling of floating or flying.
What are the Causes of Tactile Hallucinations?
Medical conditions which cause tactile hallucinations are:
Tactile Hallucinations caused by Parkinson’s Disease: Some patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease can also experience tactile hallucinations, which are usually be harmless. Some patients with Parkinson’s disease can experience the sensation of people or animals around or near them and feel as if they are floating. Most of the patients with Parkinson’s disease are aware that the tactile hallucinations are not real.
Tactile Hallucinations caused by Schizophrenia: Patients suffering from schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorders are more likely to experience tactile hallucinations along with auditory and visual hallucinations.
Tactile Hallucinations caused by Alzheimer’s Disease: About half of the patients with Alzheimer’s disease tend to experience some form of hallucinations including tactile hallucinations. Hallucinations in Alzheimer’s disease are more prone to occur in moderate to severe cases of Alzheimer’s and are not experienced by the patient in the last stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Tactile Hallucinations caused by Lewy Body Dementia: Many patients suffering from Lewy body dementia have some type of hallucination, including tactile hallucinations.
Tactile Hallucinations caused by Phantom Limb Syndrome: Individuals who have had their limb(s) amputated or have lost the use of it can continue to feel as if the limb is very painful or is still attached.
Tactile Hallucinations caused by Narcolepsy: This is a sleep disorder where the patient experiences extremely realistic or vivid hypnagogic hallucinations, which are a type of tactile hallucination experienced by the patient before fully falling asleep and being fully awake.
Tactile Hallucinations caused by Delirium Tremens: Delirium tremens is a condition which occurs in severe alcohol withdrawal and is characterized by rapid-onset of extreme confusion. Some patients when going through delirium tremens can experience tactile hallucinations.
Tactile Hallucinations caused by Psychosis: This is a mental condition, which can cause hallucinations including tactile hallucinations.
Tactile Hallucinations caused by Medicines: Medications which can cause tactile hallucinations are: anti-Parkinson agents, prescription stimulants, antidepressants, anti-epileptics and anti-hypertensives.
Tactile Hallucinations caused by Alcohol Intoxication: Alcohol Intoxication may also cause different types of hallucination including tactile hallucinations.
Tactile Hallucinations caused by Potent stimulants, such as narcotics, cocaine and amphetamines can cause tactile hallucinations which are felt as a sensation of insects biting, crawling or stinging the skin.
Diagnosis of Tactile Hallucinations
Patient’s medical history and physical exam are done. It can be difficult to diagnose tactile hallucinations. Other than this, patient will have to undergo complete neurological and psychiatric evaluation for diagnosis of tactile hallucinations. Additional tests which are done include: Urine tests, blood tests and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of the brain.
How are Tactile Hallucinations Treated?
Most of the patients find relief from tactile hallucinations after the use of antipsychotic or neurological medications. Tactile hallucinations also subside after the patient has safely detoxed from antidepressants or stimulants. Counseling can also help in reducing the severity of the symptoms of tactile hallucinations.
Atypical Antipsychotics for Treating Tactile Hallucinations: Antipsychotic medications relieve tactile hallucinations by blocking neurotransmitters and inhibiting or slowing down brain activity and the nerve signals. Atypical antipsychotics are prescribed to treat different types of hallucinations along with psychotic symptoms. Atypical antipsychotics which benefit in treatment of tactile hallucinations include: aripiprazole, risperidone, ziprasidone, olanzapine, pimavanserin, quetiapine and clozapine.
Anti-Parkinson Agents for Treating Tactile Hallucinations: Medications for treatment of Parkinson’s disease also can trigger tactile hallucinations. If the cause of tactile hallucinations are the above medicines then it is important to reduce the dosage or stop using these medications to prevent tactile hallucinations.
Withdrawal Medications for Treating Tactile Hallucinations: Withdrawal medications or depressant medications are used for treating tactile hallucinations if they occur as a result of delirium tremens, drug abuse or alcoholic hallucinations. In such cases, withdrawal medications are prescribed to the patient to safely get rid of the triggering substances from the body and relieve drug use. Benzodiazepines are the common drug of choice for treating delirium tremens.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) for Treating Tactile Hallucinations: TMS can be used for treating tactile hallucinations. In TMS, slow, repetitive bursts of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation are done to reduce the excitability of the brain in patients suffering from schizophrenia.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) for Treating Tactile Hallucinations: Cognitive Behavior Therapy helps in relieving tactile hallucinations by reducing the risk of social disability and relapse. Cognitive Behavior Therapy also helps patients understand their psychosis and engage with society. CBT also helps in developing individualized coping strategies for the patient.
Coping Strategies for Treating Tactile Hallucinations: Coping strategies can be used for treatment of tactile hallucinations. Coping strategies consist of being physically active, engaging in hobbies all of which help in minimizing the frequency of hallucinations. Other coping strategies, especially if the tactile hallucinations occur as a result of neurological conditions are:
- Watching television.
- Listening to music.
- Recognizing triggers of tactile hallucinations avoiding them.
- Seeking out company of friends.
- Resting down or going to sleep.
- Meditation and other relaxation techniques.
- Being physically active.
- Going somewhere quiet or peaceful.
- Telling oneself that the hallucinations are not real and will go away on their own.
Psychoeducation for Treating Tactile Hallucinations: Patients suffering from tactile hallucinations or any other hallucinations are not willing to admit to this condition and this poses as a big hindrance in treatment of hallucinations. For this reason, patient will benefit from reading educational materials on hallucinations to better understand their symptoms and identify the different treatment options. It is also beneficial if family members, friends or caretakers educate themselves so that they can better understand what the patient is going through and provide the right kind of support.