All of us experienced hiccups from time to time. They can be quite frustrating, thus making us try different types of “solutions” just to get rid of them. How many times have you tried to scare someone hoping their hiccups will go away? But, what are they? Why do hiccups occur in the first place? How to prevent them? The answers to all these questions are below.
What is a Hiccup?
A hiccup is defined as a sudden and involuntary spasm (contraction) of the diaphragm muscle. When the muscle contracts, a person’s vocal cords snap shut, thus producing the well-known hiccup sound. Hiccups are often rhythmic and go away quite quickly. However, prolonged hiccups might signal a major medical problem. Both men and women get hiccups equally, but hiccups whose duration is longer than 48 hours are more frequent in men.
DID YOU KNOW: hiccups can occur in fetus while still in utero
Why do we get Hiccups?
Although hiccups are quite common, and we’ve all experienced them, the scientists aren’t quite sure about the exact causes and underlying mechanisms that contribute to their occurrence. In most cases, a person starts to hiccup due to no apparent reason. Although the exact cause of hiccups is unknown, the scientists identified factors that contribute to them.
Short-term hiccups (lasting less than 48 hours) usually happen due to the following reasons:
- Consumption of carbonated beverages
- Drinking hot drinks
- Eating too much food/Eating too fast
- Not chewing and swallowing properly
- Eating hot and spicy food
- Some medications such as benzodiazepines, anesthesia, opiates, corticosteroids, methyldopa, barbiturates
- Gas in the stomach pressing against the diaphragm
- Eating dry bread
- A sudden change in a room temperature
- A sudden change in a temperature inside the stomach
- Swallowing air along with foods
- Emotional stress or excitement
- Chewing gum or sucking on candy
- Bloated stomach
Multiple factors contribute to hiccups that last longer than 48 hours (long-term hiccups). For example:
- Metabolic disorders and drugs: tranquilizers, anesthesia, alcoholism, diabetes, steroids, electrolyte imbalance, kidney failure
- Central nervous system disorders: tumors, meningitis, encephalitis, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, stroke
- Nerve damage or irritation: a sore throat or laryngitis, hair or something else in the ear making contact with eardrum, gastroesophageal reflux, tumor, cyst or goiter in the neck
- Respiratory conditions: asthma, pleurisy, pneumonia
What Are the Complications of Hiccups?
Long-term hiccups usually lead to various complications, such as:
- Post-surgical wound healing takes longer than usual
- Weight loss because a person isn’t able to eat properly
- Communication problems
DID YOU KNOW: Charles Osbourne from Anthon, Iowa entered the well-known Guinness World Records book for the longest hiccup. He had the hiccup for 68 years!
Do I have to See a Doctor?
Hiccups that occur over an extended period of time might indicate the underlying health problem. It is recommended to see a doctor if your hiccup lasts more than 48 hours. Your doctor will perform a physical exam as well as the neurological exam to assess your:
- Sight and sense of touch
- Balance and coordination
- Muscle strength and tone
To determine the potential underlying health issue that contributes to hiccups, your doctor may recommend the following tests:
- Laboratory Tests – To check if there are signs of diabetes, infection, kidney disease
- Imaging Tests – To detect anatomical abnormalities that affect the vagus nerve, diaphragm, or phrenic nerve. These tests include MRI, CT, X-ray
- Endoscopic Tests – To check the problems with windpipe or esophagus
What Is the Treatment for Hiccups?
Hiccups usually go on their own and don’t require any treatment. In instances where the underlying health issue contributes to hiccups, treatment, and management of these problems will also eliminate the hiccups.
For hiccups that last longer than two days, the doctor may recommend medications such as baclofen, metoclopramide, chlorpromazine.
Although surgeries for hiccups are rare, they are usually recommended to individuals with persistent hiccups that affect their overall quality of life. Your doctor may suggest implanting a battery-operated device which delivers mild electrical stimulation to the vagus nerve. This surgical procedure is used to treat epilepsy but proved to be effective for people with persistent hiccups too.
Another option is to inject an anesthetic to block the phrenic nerve to eliminate hiccups.
How to Prevent and Eliminate Hiccups?
Although hiccups are largely harmless, they can pose as a big annoyance and make an affected person feel uncomfortable, particularly among a bigger group of people. There are different things you can do to eliminate hiccups. For instance:
- Hold your breath
- Drink a glass of water quickly
- Have someone scare (it works!)
- Use smelling salts
- Gargle with water
- Pull hard on the tongue
- Bite on a lemon
- Drink a glass of water with a straw and plug both of your ears
- Have an orgasm
- Breathe into a paper bag
Here’s a rather bizarre, but effective way of eliminating hiccups – get a rectal massage. The Journal of Internal Medicine published results of the study which discovered that a rectal massage using a finger cures intractable hiccups. Scientists who worked on this study suggest the consideration of this maneuver for intractable hiccups before proceeding with pharmacological agents.
The best way to prevent hiccups is to:
- Stop eating too much food
- Chew and swallow slowly
- Limit consumption of carbonated drinks
- Don’t drink or eat hot foods or beverages
- Limit consumption of spicy foods is you realize the hiccups occur whenever you eat them
- Consult your doctor regarding the medications you’re taking
- Quit smoking
- Limit alcohol intake
- Find a unique way to relieve and manage stress.
Although hiccups are quite common, the experts aren’t sure about the exact cause that makes us produce that sound from time to time. Luckily, the scientists have successfully identified different factors that contribute to short-term and long-term factors.
While short-term hiccups are harmless, it’s recommended to see a doctor in case your hiccups are persistent. In this case, they may potentially signal a health problem. It’s important to eat food properly, manage stress, and avoid eating foods or drinking beverages that trigger your hiccup.