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Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jun 6, 2022.

What are hallucinations?

Hallucinations are things you see, hear, feel, taste, or smell that seem real but are not. Some hallucinations are temporary. Hallucinations that continue, interfere with daily activities, or worsen may be a sign of a serious medical or mental condition that needs treatment.

What are the types of hallucinations?

  • Auditory means you hear things, such as music, buzzing, or ringing. You may hear voices even though no one else is in the room. The voices may say negative things about you or tell you to harm yourself or others. You may hear the voice of a loved one who recently passed away.
  • Visual means you see things, such as a person or object that is not real. Flashes of light or shapes are other examples. Another example is an object that is real but looks different to you than it does to others.
  • Tactile means you feel things, such as an object that is not real. You may feel like something is touching you or is crawling on or in your skin. You may also feel that your body is being cut or torn. You may feel like something is in a body part, such as your stomach, even though tests show nothing is there.
  • Olfactory means you smell something that is not real. The smell may make you gag or choke if it is not pleasant. You may smell something good, such as food or flowers. Olfactory hallucinations may be a sign of a serious medical condition that needs treatment, such as a brain tumor.
  • Gustatory means you taste things that are not real. You may taste something even when your mouth is empty. Your food may taste rotten or sour even though others eating the same food think it tastes fine.

What increases the risk for hallucinations?

  • A mental condition, such as dementia or schizophrenia
  • Drug or alcohol abuse or withdrawal, or a reaction to a medication
  • A fever, infection, or heatstroke
  • A medical condition, such as thyroid problems or a brain tumor
  • A neurological condition, such as migraines or seizures
  • An eye condition, such as glaucoma or macular degeneration
  • An inner ear condition or infection
  • Low blood sugar or sodium levels
  • Emotional problems, such as from the recent loss of a loved one, PTSD, or abuse
  • Not enough sleep, or being between asleep and awake but still dreaming

How is the cause of hallucinations diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask when the hallucinations started. Tell him about any recent stress in your life, such as the death of a loved one. He will also ask about medicines you take and if you drink alcohol or use drugs. Tell him if you have trouble sleeping or had any recent illness.

  • Blood or urine tests may be used to check for infection, or for alcohol or drugs. The tests may also be used to check thyroid or liver function.
  • A CT or MRI may be used to check for an injury, tumor, or infection.

How are hallucinations treated?

  • Medicines may be given to stop the hallucinations, reduce anxiety, or relax your muscles.
  • A behavior therapist may help you recognize and manage hallucinations. He may teach methods such as the talk-through method. You will learn to tell yourself that the hallucination is not real and what to do when it ends.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

Call 911 if you or someone else notices any of the following:

  • You want to harm yourself or someone else.
  • You hear voices telling you to harm yourself or someone else.
  • You have a seizure.
  • You are confused, do not know where you are, or are not making sense when you speak.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your hallucinations worsen or return after treatment.
  • You vomit several times in a row.
  • Your heartbeat or breathing is faster or slower than usual.
  • You have trouble breathing or shortness of breath.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have new hallucinations.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.