Whenever we hear the word hallucination, we think of visual hallucination where a person "sees" something that does not exist. But there is a more common form of hallucination, that is not visual in nature. This is known as auditory hallucination. It is a form of hallucination that makes a person perceive sound without the aid of external auditory stimulus. Auditory hallucination is usually (not always) a symptom of mental illness or psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. However, such hallucinations can also be caused due to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), drug abuse and sleep deprivation. The relationship between auditory hallucination and non psychotic causes are being studied, but till date research has been inconclusive. Auditory hallucination has also been seen to be closely associated with neurological disorder like epilepsy.
Characteristics of Auditory Hallucinations
Most people, at least once, "hear" or perceive some kind of sound or music without any external stimulus at some point in their life. This happens very rarely and this cannot be said to be auditory hallucination. Hearing "sound" or "music" inside the head is not considered as auditory hallucination. In auditory hallucination, people hear voices inside their head or have the perception that someone is talking to them, when there is no auditory stimulus. The voices are clear and are either commanding or negative in nature. Some people who hear such voices has reported that they hear multiple voices either talking to them, or about them or conversing with each other. The voices are mostly negative in nature, and they usually curse, berate or humiliate the subject. It is important to note that auditory hallucination is different from auditory illusions where the person misinterprets an auditory signal or stimulus.
Auditory Hallucinations and Schizophrenia
In simple terms auditory hallucination is the perception of sound without any external auditory stimulus that seems very real to the individual hearing it. Although it can be caused by neurological disorders like epilepsy or other non psychotic causes like extreme stress, auditory hallucinations are most often seen in patients with schizophrenia. Most people who are schizophrenic or suffer from severe bipolar depression also show symptoms of auditory hallucination. Therefore auditory hallucination is quite significant in diagnosing these conditions. Schizophrenic patients who frequently have these hallucinations are unable to recognize that the "voices" they hear are not real and are a product of their mind. Research has shown that auditory hallucination is caused by disturbance in the nerve cells and is closely related to use of dopamine as a neurotransmitter.
Auditory Hallucinations and Non Psychotic Causes
There are some other factors that can cause auditory hallucination that are non psychotic in nature. Use of certain drugs like cocaine, LSD and marijuana can also cause a person to have auditory hallucination. Certain life changing occurrence like bereavement, divorce and near death experience can also cause intense stress which might lead to auditory hallucinations. This is mostly seen in people who are already suffering from mood swings and depression.
Auditory Hallucination Treatment
No single treatment for auditory hallucinations works until the other symptoms are studied to arrive at a possible cause for it. If the episodes of auditory hallucination points towards schizophrenia, then anti psychotic drugs that controls dopamine metabolism are prescribed. Cognitive behavioral therapy as well as enhanced supportive therapy are also used to treat the frequency and intensity of auditory hallucinations. When auditory hallucinations are seen in patients as a result of psychosis with epilepsy, then a combination of anticonvulsants and antipsychotics are usually prescribed.
Auditory hallucinations can be most disturbing for people who have to live with frequent episodes of it. Most often it is a potential symptom of psychosis and mental disorder. However, it is important to note that not all people who have auditory hallucinations are suffering from mental psychosis.