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What Are Auditory Hallucinations?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 August 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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Discuss this Article

ysmina
Post 3

@literally45-- I agree. I wonder what religious leaders think about this issue. Holy books describe that prophets received the commands of God as a voice, which is an angel relaying God's message to the prophet. Technically, it's an auditory hallucination.

literally45
Post 2

I'm so glad that this article points out that auditory hallucinations do not only occur due to mental illness. There is a general assumption that those who experience auditory hallucinations are experiencing mental illness. Although this is one of the symptoms of certain types of mental illness, there are many other possible causes.

Of course, if someone experiences these, they should see a doctor right away to find out the cause and seek the proper treatment. But it's not right to label people a certain way because of this symptom. Various neurological conditions and brain injuries can cause auditory hallucinations.

candyquilt
Post 1

I think bipolar disorder is another condition that can cause auditory hallucinations. I had a friend who suffered from bipolar disorder. I don't get to see her much nowadays because we live very far away from one another. But I remember her telling me that she used to experience this. She said that she would hear a radio playing. There is no radio, but she would hear music.

I know that it was very disturbing for her in the beginning but they went away after some time when her treatment was changed. I hope that God will not test anyone with conditions like these and I hope that cures can be found for these conditions soon. Hearing a radio that doesn't exist doesn't sound too bad but I'm sure that when one experiences it, it would be frightening.

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