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Nonpsychiatric Hallucinations

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Feb 6, 2023.

What are nonpsychiatric hallucinations?

Hallucinations are things you see, hear, feel, taste, or smell that seem real but are not. A nonpsychiatric hallucination is not caused by a mental disorder such as schizophrenia. Some hallucinations are temporary. Hallucinations that continue, interfere with daily activities, or worsen may be a sign of a serious condition that needs treatment.

What are the types of nonpsychiatric hallucinations?

  • Auditory means you hear things, such as music, buzzing, or ringing. You may think you 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.
  • 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 something that is 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 my risk for nonpsychiatric hallucinations?

  • 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 nonpsychiatric hallucinations diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask when the hallucinations started. Tell him or her about any recent stress in your life, such as the death of a loved one. Your provider will also ask about medicines you take and if you drink alcohol or use drugs. Tell him or her 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 your thyroid or liver function.
  • A CT or MRI may be used to check for an injury, tumor, or infection. Do not enter the MRI room with any metal. Metal can cause serious damage. Tell the provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

How are nonpsychiatric hallucinations treated?

Your hallucinations may go away without treatment. Any treatment you need will depend on the cause of your hallucinations.

Treatment options

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

What can I do to prevent nonpsychiatric hallucinations?

  • Limit or do not drink alcohol as directed. Alcohol can cause hallucinations or make your symptoms worse. Talk to your provider about safe ways to stop using alcohol. Sudden alcohol withdrawal can cause hallucinations.
  • Manage medical conditions. Conditions such as thyroid disorders, eye problems, or migraine headaches may need long-term care. Check your blood sugar levels as directed if you have diabetes or other blood sugar problems.
  • Prevent dehydration. You may need to drink more liquids on hot days or when you exercise. Ask your provider how much liquid to drink each day, and which liquids are best for you. Drink liquids throughout the day. Too much liquid at one time can cause your sodium levels to go too low.
  • Set a sleep schedule. Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. Keep your room quiet and free from distractions, such as a television or computer. Talk to your provider if you are having trouble falling or staying asleep.

Call 911 if:

  • You have a seizure.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your hallucinations worsen or return after treatment.
  • 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

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