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What Are Visual Hallucinations?

Elderly patients commonly experience visual hallucinations of a dead loved one.
Visual hallucinations are often a symptom of mental illness or another serious medical condition.
Visual hallucinations can be caused by problems with the optic nerve.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 September 2014
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Visual hallucinations are visual sensations which are distorted in nature or outright false, occurring with no stimulus to explain the visions. There are a number of reasons why visual hallucinations can occur, ranging from dementia to drug abuse, and they can be a sign that someone is experiencing a serious underlying medical problem if they occur with no clear explanation. It is also possible to experience other types of sensory hallucinations during a visual hallucination. Thus, people may feel like they can touch objects in the vision or may report smells which are not linked with any known stimuli.

In some types of visual hallucinations, vision is simply distorted. People may see halos, streaks of color, tracers, and other artifacts in their vision which do not actually exist. There types of visual hallucinations are often associated with recreational drug use, and can also be caused by some prescription drugs, or medical issues such as a high fever. Distortion of vision may last a few seconds to several days, depending on the cause.

In other visual hallucinations, visions are entirely false. People may see people, animals, or objects which are not there, or may be transported into scenes which don't actually exist. A common type of visual hallucination seen among elderly patients is a hallucination of a dead loved one; people may claim to be able to see a dead spouse, for example, and may even carry on conversations with the hallucination.

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Stress, fatigue, and mental illness can all cause visual hallucinations, as can neurological conditions, medications, and eye conditions. Finding the cause of visual hallucinations is important, as it may be treatable. For example, if someone is experiencing visual hallucinations due to impingement on the optic nerve, surgery could be performed to free the nerve and restore vision. In cases where the condition is not treatable, being aware of the fact that a patient may experience hallucinations can be important for care providers. For example, patients on medications which cause hallucinations may appear to act erratically or irrationally, but this is because of things which only they can see.

In some cultures historically, people deliberately cultivated visual hallucinations, believing that they were sent by higher powers to provide information or religious insight. Sometimes a specific member of society was designated as a recipient of such visions, while in other cases groups would ingest hallucinogenic drugs for the purpose of experiencing visions together. Some cultures still retain the practice of using such drugs in a religious context.

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renieryjb
Post 5

I am 23 years old and I was diagnosed with depression three years ago, and with ADHD. After I had a panic attack, I started taking antidepressants. Then a change in the visual stimuli came. I see little green spots that often move, and have a little photosensitivity. Neither my parents nor my doctor know what it is. If someone has an answer, it would be great.

hangugeo112
Post 4

@Leonidas226

This is a popular argument, but it doesn't make much sense, historically. Many of the evident signs in the life of Christ and other religious figures line up with prophecies and mythologies to the point where it would require an intricate planner to fabricate all of that detail. This would be an impossible task, and it just doesn't line up with the evidence concerning all of the disciples and followers who bore witness to the truth after a lot of skepticism. On the other hand, faith is ultimately a basis, not a provable bit of evidence.

Leonidas226
Post 3

Some people call certain religious experiences hallucinations. If everybody hallucinates at once and has a mass hallucination, this tends to cause people to believe its credibility. Skeptics think that this is what a religions truly is: a result of mass hallucination.

BigBloom
Post 2

When hallucinations combine to be auditory and visual, it usually indicates that someone is in need of immediate attention. This means that schizophrenia has progressed pretty far, and shouldn't be taken lightly. If someone is responding to false stimuli and can't distinguish between reality and their own projections, they may be harmful to themselves and to others.

SilentBlue
Post 1

Sometimes our brain naturally fills in the gaps of our vision to make us misinterpret what we see. This is not a hallucination, but may be a result of visual impairment or of just seeing something out of the corner of our eyes.

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