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"What causes hallucinations?"
What could cause hallucinations in a young, healthy man? Twice in the last month, I've noticed my son reacting to 'noises' that nobody else heard. In other ways, his brain seems normal, but this still worries me. So should we take him to a doctor?
Concerns about a young adult reacting to noises or visual stimuli that other people cannot see or hear should be addressed by a physician. A primary care physician (or pediatrician, depending upon the age of the individual) can help take an initial history and physical exam. Depending upon the circumstances, evaluation by a psychiatrist may also be suggested. Hallucinations are generally described as the perception of a sensory stimulus by a person who is awake in the absence of a real event. People can have hallucinations of any of the senses--they can smell, hear, see, feel, or taste something that is not real. Hallucinations can be very frightening and confusing for the person experiencing them as well as for the people around them. Hallucinations can be caused by many things, including illicit drugs; withdrawal from alcohol in chronic drinkers; sleep deprivation; a variety of neurological disorders; and certain psychiatric disease. The most common neurological concerns that can cause hallucinations include certain forms of epilepsy as well as certain dementia syndromes. These diseases would be associated with other symptoms beyond auditory hallucinations. In a young adult who is hearing 'voices,' one possible explanation would include the onset of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is usually first diagnosed in otherwise healthy young adults. As with other conditions, schizophrenia is usually associated with additional symptoms beyond hallucinations, but this kind of evaluation is best done by a psychiatrist. Hallucinations can be a sign of serious underlying illness and should not be taken lightly. Evaluation by a physician is the best way to evaluate and treat these symptoms.
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