What causes visual hallucinations and what should I do about them?

Symptom Database

Visual hallucinations, also known as seeing things, are a fascinating and often perplexing phenomenon. They involve perceiving objects or images that are not actually present in the external environment. These illusions can range from simple shapes and colors to complex scenes and figures. While visual hallucinations are commonly associated with mental health conditions and neurological disorders, they can also occur in individuals without any underlying medical conditions. In this article, we will explore the causes of visual hallucinations and discuss what you can do if you experience them.

Understanding Visual Hallucinations

Visual hallucinations are a type of perceptual disturbance that can occur in various contexts. They are characterized by the perception of visual stimuli that are not objectively present. These hallucinations can be vivid and realistic, making it difficult for individuals to distinguish between what is real and what is not.

There are two main categories of visual hallucinations:

  • Simple hallucinations: These involve seeing basic shapes, colors, or patterns.
  • Complex hallucinations: These involve seeing detailed scenes, people, or objects.

Visual hallucinations can occur in isolation or alongside other sensory hallucinations, such as auditory or tactile hallucinations. They can also be accompanied by cognitive distortions, where individuals may misinterpret or misattribute the meaning of the hallucinations.

Causes of Visual Hallucinations

Visual hallucinations can arise from various factors, including both mental health conditions and neurological disorders. Some common causes include:

Mental Health Conditions

Mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, are often associated with visual hallucinations. These hallucinations can be a result of the underlying neurochemical imbalances and disruptions in brain function that occur in these conditions. Additionally, conditions like major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can also lead to visual hallucinations.

Neurological Disorders

Neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, can cause visual hallucinations. These hallucinations are believed to be a result of the degeneration and dysfunction of specific brain regions involved in visual processing. Migraine headaches and epilepsy can also trigger visual hallucinations as part of their symptomatology.

Substance Abuse

The use of certain substances, such as hallucinogenic drugs like LSD or magic mushrooms, can induce visual hallucinations. These substances directly affect the brain’s perception and processing of visual information, leading to altered states of consciousness and hallucinatory experiences.

Sleep Deprivation

Extended periods of sleep deprivation or disrupted sleep patterns can also contribute to visual hallucinations. The brain’s sensory processing becomes compromised when it is deprived of adequate rest, leading to perceptual distortions and hallucinatory experiences.

What Should You Do About Visual Hallucinations?

If you experience visual hallucinations, it is important to seek professional help to determine the underlying cause and receive appropriate treatment. Here are some steps you can take:

Consult a Healthcare Professional

Start by scheduling an appointment with a healthcare professional, such as a psychiatrist or neurologist. They will conduct a thorough evaluation, including a medical history review and possibly some diagnostic tests, to identify any underlying conditions contributing to the hallucinations.

Discuss Medication Options

If a mental health condition or neurological disorder is identified as the cause of the visual hallucinations, your healthcare professional may recommend medication to manage the symptoms. Antipsychotic medications, mood stabilizers, or antidepressants may be prescribed, depending on the specific diagnosis.

Explore Therapy and Support

In addition to medication, therapy can be beneficial in managing visual hallucinations. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help individuals develop coping strategies and challenge cognitive distortions associated with the hallucinations. Support groups and counseling can also provide a safe space to share experiences and gain support from others who may be going through similar challenges.

Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

If sleep deprivation is a contributing factor, adopting good sleep hygiene practices can help improve your sleep quality and reduce the occurrence of visual hallucinations. Establish a regular sleep schedule, create a comfortable sleep environment, and avoid stimulants close to bedtime.

Avoid Substance Abuse

If substance abuse is a factor in your visual hallucinations, it is crucial to seek help for addiction and refrain from using substances that induce hallucinations. Substance abuse treatment programs and support groups can provide the necessary resources and guidance to overcome addiction.


Visual hallucinations can be a distressing experience, but they can often be managed with the right approach. By seeking professional help, understanding the underlying causes, and following appropriate treatment strategies, individuals can find relief from visual hallucinations and improve their overall well-being. Remember, you are not alone, and there are resources available to support you on your journey towards better mental health.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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