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What Are Auditory Hallucinations?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 19 April 2014
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Auditory hallucinations are often described as hearing voices that do not exist. This definition is not completely accurate. While hearing voices does occur in some people who suffer these hallucinations there are other sounds or tones, which a person might hear, instead. Similarly, it tends to be assumed only people with schizophrenia hear these varying noises, and this is definitely not true.

If the definition of auditory hallucinations is widened to include hearing all sounds that are not there, and encompasses anyone who could experience these, it could be said many people have at least once had an auditory hallucination. They can occur in conditions like hypnopompic hallucinations, where just before waking, a person hears a very real sound or voice, and these may affect over 10% of the population at least once in a lifetime. Additionally some people suffer from exploding head syndrome, where just as people fall asleep they hear loud bangs or crashes, which can be extremely disturbing and disruptive to sleep.

There are other medically defined causes of auditory hallucinations. They’ve been associated with excessive drug use, especially of crack, amphetamines, and cocaine. Other conditions that may cause them include withdrawal from alcohol, some forms of epilepsy, a variety of illnesses that result in dementia, high fever, and certain forms of poisoning.

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It is true that some people who have auditory hallucinations do suffer from conditions like schizophrenia or some severe forms of depression. Voices heard may be negative or positive and some people respond to these voices by talking aloud. Medication to treat these symptoms, in the form of anti-psychotic drugs can be effective for some people. It might still leave some residual “inside talking,” but with better control of the disease, some individuals can ignore the voices they hear.

Interestingly, there are some people who believe auditory hallucinations that occur regularly aren’t necessarily a symptom of illness, but instead fit it into an acceptable range of human behavior. The organization, the Hearing Voices Movement, originally established in England, takes a much more holistic approach to this issue, suggesting that psychiatry has not been fully effective in solving this problem for people labeled schizophrenic and that some people might be better treated via other methods.

No matter how auditory hallucinations are considered, they are a condition that warrants some investigation. Depending on approach, they may not be diagnosed as mental illness, and in fact hearing noises could simply be viewed as a common variation of human experience. That is no reason to take “hearing things” lightly; as this condition could indicate presence of severe behavioral problems like drug addiction, possibly seizure disorders or develop of conditions that cause cognitive deterioration. Those experiencing any form of hallucinations are advised to speak with a physician promptly.

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