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Thursday, 23 April 2015

Hallucinations: Are you seeing things that aren’t there?

Alcoholism, alcohol withdrawal and ‘social’ drugs may cause hallucinations. Photo: AFP

Alcoholism, alcohol withdrawal and ‘social’ drugs may cause hallucinations. Photo: AFP

My maid was behaving weirdly the other day. She claimed that she saw a woman in her room, telling her that her daughter in Indonesia had died. When I went to check, there was no one in the room. I was very afraid because I thought it might be a ghost. But then, someone told me that my maid might be having a hallucination. What is a hallucination?

A hallucination is a false perception that has no identifiable external stimulus. This means that it all happened in someone’s mind and is not caused by something that really was there, such as an actual person speaking to you or an actual voice from the television. A hallucination indicates that there is something abnormal with the person’s perception.

A hallucination is different from an illusion because an illusion is a perception of something that is not actually there. For example, when a TV is playing and you hear your name being called. There are indeed sounds coming out of the TV, but you misheard them.

Aren’t hallucinations visual ones only?

No. Hallucinations can involve the five senses. Hallucinations can essentially involve seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling or smelling something that is not there. People experiencing these hallucinations may be or may not be aware that these hallucinations are false.

Tell me about the types of hallucinations.

Hallucinations are be divided into:

• Auditory hallucination

This is the false perception of sound, voices, music, or noises when there is no auditory stimulus. This is the most common type of hallucination in mental disorders. The voices here can be heard inside your head or outside your head, and the disorder is considered more severe if the voices come from outside your head.

There may be more than one voice, and they can be talking to you or talking to each other, sometimes about you. You may hear a male or female voice. It may be the voice of someone you know, or someone you don’t know. The voice/s can be commenting on what you are doing, or even telling you what to do (command).

In mental disorders like schizophrenia, the voice usually says something unpleasant or negative. In disorders like major depression, the voice usually says something critical. In mania, the voice usually says something elevating or conforming your grandiose delusions.

• Visual hallucination

This is the false perception of sight – which may be something simple such as shapes, colours or flashes of light, or something complex like human figures or entire scenes. Sometimes, you can even perceive a religious figure standing before you.

• Gustatory hallucination

This is the false perception of taste, which is usually unpleasant. This type of hallucination is more commonly seen in medical disorders like epilepsy, where you can taste metal, for example, before a fit occurs.

 Olfactory hallucination

This is the false perception of smell or odour, which is also usually unpleasant. You may smell dead bodies or burning rubber. Again, this is more usually associated with medical disorders like epilepsy.

• Somatic/tactile hallucination

This is the false perception of touch or sensation, for example, the feeling of something crawling under your skin, or someone touching you when nobody is there.

How do we cure hallucinations?

First, we have to find out the underlying disorder. The most common causes are:

• Mental disorders: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, dementia, delirium.

• Substance abuse: Certain drugs like cocaine and PCP, alcohol and alcohol withdrawal.

• Lack of sleep: If you haven’t slept in several days, you are more prone to hallucinations. Similarly, if you have isolated yourself too much due to medical reasons (such as being in hospital confinement).

• Medications: Certain drugs for epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, schozphrenia can trigger hallucinations.

• Epilepsy and seizures

• Migraine

• High fever

• Deafness, blindness or visual problems

Treatment for the hallucinations would then be to treat the underlying cause.

Dr YLM graduated as a medical doctor, and has been writing for many years on various subjects such as medicine, health, computers and entertainment. For further information, e-mail The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

Tags / Keywords: tell me about , health , hallucination , visual , auditory

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