Hiccups are involuntary spasms of the diaphragm. Each spasm produces a sudden closure of the vocal cords which makes that characteristic “hic” sound.
While men get hiccups more often than women, they are typically harmless and disappear after a few minutes. However, if they last longer that 48 hours, they could indicate a more serious medical condition and you should see a doctor.
What causes hiccups?
Hiccups can happen for many reasons. The irritation involves a nerve that connects the brain to the diaphragm, and for this reason, the causes of hiccups may be physical or emotional. Some common causes include:
- Drinking carbonated beverages or excessive alcohol.
- Eating too much or too quickly.
- Feeling nervous, stressed or excited.
- A sudden change in temperature.
- Swallowing air while chewing gum or sucking on candy.
Hiccups are usually short-lived. However, in rare cases they do not go away and become long-term. See a doctor if hiccups last longer than 24 hours, or if they are so severe that they interfere with eating, breathing or sleeping.
Long-term hiccups could be a sign of:
- Nerve damage or irritation cause by a hair touching the eardrum, a tumor, goiter or cyst in the neck, gastric reflux or a sore throat.
- Central nervous system disorders like encephalitis, meningitis, multiple sclerosis or traumatic brain injury.
- Metabolic disorders and drugs like alcoholism, diabetes, kidney failure, steroids, anaesthesia and tranquilisers.
How do I get rid of hiccups?
Human’s quest to rid themselves of hiccups has given rise to many old wives’ tales. Perhaps the theory with most scientific support is that building up carbon dioxide in the lungs helps relax the diaphragm and end hiccups. This can be achieved by holding one’s breath or breathing into a paper bag.
What use is hiccups?
While hiccups appear to be of no benefit to adults, there is some speculation that it may have an important function in early child development. For example, a study carried out at University College London (UCL) determined that hiccups in new-born babies trigger a series of brain signals that may help develop many physiological reflexes, from breathing to learning.