Posted by Margaret Donohue on March 31, 2013 at 12:45 PM
"I see dead people. So I'm schizophrenic." Not since The 6th Sense or some of the Medium programs on television and the movies have so many people been talking about visual hallucinations and illusions. I have seldom seen visual hallucinations correctly evaluated or identified.
So to all those people equating visual hallucinations with schizophrenia...you're wrong. Very seldom does schizophrenia present with visual hallucinations, and the type that does has some very specific images associated with it. Estimates of schizophrenics with visual hallucinations and other symptoms of psychosis are around 16%. Visual hallucinations alone are NOT a symptom of schizophrenia. The vast majority of hallucinations associated with mental illness are auditory hallucinations not visual hallucinations. Visual hallucinations are related to a wide variety of medical and neurological conditions. These include:
- Substance use and abuse
- Sleep disturbance
- Brain tumors
- Medication side effects
- Visual loss
- Cortical blindness
- Parkinson's disease
- Metabolic disturbances
- Reported psychic phenomena
- Visual illusions reported as hallucinations
- Visual flashbacks of trauma
- Symptoms following concussion
Visual hallucinations are not uncommon. They run in my family as a result of a metabolic disturbance and are eliminated by avoiding a specific type of food. I've also had visual hallucinations following antibiotic use, corticosteroid use, and sleep disturbance.
Visual hallucinations are quite varied. I recently saw a man reporting seeing historical figures slightly smaller than life-size. Usually Charles Bonnet Syndrome presents with very small figures, but it was clear he had been losing vision for some time. The hallucinations of hynopompic and hypnogogic sleep disturbances can be quite frightening, as can flashback images from trauma.
Visual disturbances that may accompany migraine or tumors of the optic nerve may be reported as hallucinations. The same is true with floaters often described as black or brown spots or dots, but can also be described as insects or spiders in prople following head injury.
If you are having hallucinations, it might help to get evaluated. If you are a health care professional or a patient and would like a consultation, our office would be happy to help.