Hallucinations: Types, Causes, and Management



A hallucination is defined as sensing things while awake that seem to be actual and physical while it is actually not real and has been created by the mind. Hallucination is sometimes normal, especially after a great life event, such as losing a loved, which is normally considered as part of the grieving process. In other cases, it is caused by a mental or physical illness or side effect of particular medications.

A hallucination should not be confused with an illusion. In hallucinations, there is a sensory perception while in the lack of an external stimulus. In contrast, in an illusion, there is an external stimulus but misperception occurs. This sensory perception may either be visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile or proprioceptive. The different types of hallucinations will be described in detail later.

Types of Hallucinations

Hallucinations may affect any of the five senses or in other cases, are temporary. Some of the types of hallucinations include:

  • Visual Hallucinations
    • Seeing things that are not physically there
    • Ex. Visual patterns, lights, objects or people
  • Auditory Hallucinations (most common)
    • Hearing voices when no one is speaking to you or hearing sounds
    • Ex. Hearing someone is speaking to you or telling you to do certain things, repeated clicking or tapping noises, or knocking on the door
  • Olfactory Hallucinations
    • Smelling odour that is not there
    • Ex. Waking up in the middle of the night and smelling pleasurable or unpleasant scents
  • Gustatory Hallucinations
    • Tasting tastes of food that is not being eaten
    • Ex. Tasting bitter melon when eating sweets
  • Tactile Hallucinations
    • Sensation of touch or movement in the body when there is none
    • Ex. Bugs crawling on the skin, another person touching the body
  • Proprioceptive Hallucinations
    • Affecting sense of balance and position in space
  • Temporary Hallucinations
    • Hallucinations that are not chronic, usually occurs by a severe life event
    • Ex. Hearing the voice of or briefly seeing a recently deceased loved one

Causes of Hallucinations

Hallucinations are commonly caused by mental and physical causes. The following are the common causes of hallucination:

  • Mental illnesses
    • Dementia
    • Delirium
    • Schizophrenia
    • Psychotic depression
  • Severe illnesses such as AIDS, brain cancer or liver and kidney failure
  • High fevers, particularly in children and elderly
  • Alcohol or drug abuse or withdrawal
  • Lack of sleep
  • Extreme starvation
  • Migraines
  • Epilepsy
  • Certain medications such as those for depression, psychosis, Parkinson’s disease,etc.

Management for Hallucinations

Treatment will be based on the underlying cause. The doctor may prescribe medications or psychological counselling. First aid can be administeredto hallucinating patients. The following steps are generally recommended:

  • Observe for signs that a person is hallucinating, such as any of the examples given above.
  • If one is in an appropriate relation with the patient directly ask the patient if he/ she is experiencing hallucinations. Speak clearly and without being condescending. One may try asking:
    • Are you seeing someone else in the room?
    • Can you hear voices other than our own? What are they saying to you?
  • Do not deny the person’s experience but suggest own perceptions. One may try saying:
    • I understand that you are feeling worried but I do not see or hear anything.
  • If the patient can understand your conversation,
    • Assist the person in identifying symptoms and the triggers or hallucinations.

Disclaimer: This article does not provide medical advice or treatment. The information given should not be used for self-diagnosis of possible conditions. Seek medical attention when necessary. Understanding symptoms that are commonly present in medical situations may help when taking first aid training. To learn more about to how to manage mental symptoms, such as hallucinations, enrol in First Aid Courses with workplace approved Training.


Badii, Chitra. (2012). Hallucinations. Healthline. Retrieved October 3, 2013, from http://www.healthline.com/health/hallucinations?toptoctest=expand

Hallucinations. (2012). National Institutes of Health. Retrieved October 3, 2013, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003258.htm

Hallucinations. (ND). Queensland Mind Essentials. Retrieved October 3, 2013, from http://www.health.qld.gov.au/mentalhealth/docs/hallucinations.pdf


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