What Are the Causes of Hallucinations in Children?

Malysa Stratton Louk

Childhood hallucinations can be normal; most often, however, they are a cause for concern and may be related to a larger problem. Some children are more prone to hallucinations than others and there is not always an obvious cause. The most common causes of hallucinations in children are related to medical conditions and mental disorders such as high fevers, head injuries, drug exposure, sensory deprivation, schizophrenia and other conditions. Hallucinations are usually auditory or visual, although children may also experience hallucinations through their sense of smell, taste or touch.

Parental use of heroin can cause hallucinations in children.
Parental use of heroin can cause hallucinations in children.

Medical conditions, especially high fevers and dehydration, commonly cause hallucinations in kids. Hallucinations may also be a sign of kidney or liver failure, epilepsy, brain cancer, tumors or severe head injuries. Childhood schizophrenia, psychotic depression and a predisposition to psychosis may cause children to hallucinate and are usually accompanied by severe mood swings. A child who is directly exposed to alcohol or drugs may experience hallucinations. This includes parental use of marijuana, heroin or amphetamines, as well as a child’s use of inhalants, phencyclidine (PCP), lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), cocaine and ketamine.

A high fever may cause a child to hallucinate.
A high fever may cause a child to hallucinate.

Some prescription medications typically given to children for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other childhood disorders may cause hallucinations when the child is given large doses. In some cases, even small amounts of these medications present a problem. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the most commonly prescribed medications that may cause hallucinations in children are Adderall®, Strattera®, Concerta®, Ritalin® and other amphetamine salts. Hallucinations related to these medications are usually related to the sense of touch, though they also can be visual.

Sleep disturbances like apnea adn insomnia can contribute to hallucinations in children.
Sleep disturbances like apnea adn insomnia can contribute to hallucinations in children.

Hallucinations in children may also be caused by sleep disturbances such as sleep apnea and insomnia. Physical, emotional or sensory exhaustion also can cause hallucinations in kids, especially if the child experiences or is subjected to sensory deprivation. Long-term sensory deprivation caused by blindness, deafness or neglect is known to cause hallucinations. When a child is subjected to total sensory deprivation for as little as 15 minutes, hallucinations are common, even in children who are not prone to them.

Hallucinations in children may be a sign of cancer.
Hallucinations in children may be a sign of cancer.

Some hallucinations in children may be normal, such as when a child sees or hears a recently deceased family member or pet. This is often part of a normal grieving process. Imaginary playmates are also a common part of normal childhood development and are not the same as having actual hallucinations. Children who experience frequent hallucinations should be seen immediately by a qualified medical professional. Parents who are concerned that their child is having a hallucination should seek immediate medical care for the child.

Some prescription medications can cause hallucinations in children.
Some prescription medications can cause hallucinations in children.
Dehydration may cause hallucinations in children.
Dehydration may cause hallucinations in children.

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Discussion Comments


My six-year-old son experiences actual hallucinations and they are frightening to him. He hears voices telling him they are going to kill him, and he also sees them. To him, they appear to be spirits, not solid forms. He cannot control when they appear and go away, although they normally only appear when no one else is around. He also experiences delusional thinking, such as being controlled by these spirits. They have told him to kill me, his mother. Psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar, and anxiety all run in our family. My son has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder but is being evaluated for other psychiatric disorders.


I used to see things in the night: flowers growing in my room, or snakes crawling all over me. The hallucinations eventually went away. It bothered my Mom a lot, but it turned out to be nothing.


I remember when I was four, I used to hallucinate, at night, just before bed. I would see a creepy man, with shark teeth and slanted red eyes, laughing, and looming over me, looking ready to eat me up. I could also hear his laugh, loud, and booming, while he would whisper my name continuously. I was terrified and all I could do was scream and cry, and hide behind my parents, who didn't understand what the hell was going on. This terrified me even more, as it meant that he could supposedly get me any time. I had nightmares every night as well.

Gradually, the hallucinations faded away, but came back again for a short period of time, after one sleepwalking episode, six years later. I am happy to say that I don't have them anymore, but I'm curious about exactly what triggered my hallucinations and regular nightmares? I am sure that I did not have a mental illness back then, and I do not have one now either.


My mom always tells me about the time when I had a terrible fever as a child and had hallucinations from it. Apparently, I was hallucinating about monsters and such and refused to sleep alone.


@MikeMason-- It's possible, so you're doing the right thing by seeing a psychologist.

Family problems can definitely be disturbing for a child's psychology. This is also the time when children have a lot of imagination. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if a child is just using his or her imagination and fantasizing things or if the child really is hallucinating. This is why it's a good idea to seek help from a professional.


Can major life changes cause hallucinations in children?

I recently divorced from my husband and as much as I tried to keep my five-year-old daughter away from everything, she is going through a tough time. Recently, she has started talking about an imaginary friend that plays with her. I'm not sure if she really sees or hears anything but I'm scared that she might be hallucinating.

I'm looking for a good child psychologist right now. I'm just wondering if any other parents have experienced something like this with their kids?

I'm just not sure if child hallucinations are normal or not.

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