What is hiccup?
Hiccups – medical term is synchronous diaphragmatic flutter – occur following a spasm of the diaphragm. If you don’t remember what the diaphragm is, it’s the muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen (sitting just below the lungs) and its regulated contractions and relaxation allow you to inhale and exhale.
When the contraction is sudden and involuntary, hiccups ensue. The “hic” sound you make is due to the sudden closure of the vocal cords (happening simultaneously), and other parts of the throat block air flow. They affect men more often than women and occur in every human being, including babies and older adults.
What are the causes?
Often, hiccups result from eating too much (or too fast) all at once. You get that feeling having food stuck in your esophagus and can’t move down. But alcoholic beverages, sudden excitement, and even underlying medical conditions can initiate them—don’t worry too much about the latter if they only last for a few minutes.
Hiccups lasting longer than a few days are known as “persistent hiccups”, and those lasting longer than a month are called “intractable hiccups”. Intractable hiccups are rare (likely due to damage to the vagus and/or phrenic nerve), but can cause exhaustion, lack of sleep, and other health issues.
Common triggers for hiccups that last less than 48 hours include:
- Carbonated beverages
- Overeating, especially dry foods
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Excitement or emotional stress
- Swallowing air (chewing gum or sucking on candy)
Interestingly enough, according to the Mayo Clinic, damage or irritation the vagus nerve could be caused by something as simple as hair touching your ear drum!
What can be done to stop them?
There seems to be a variety of ways and ideas to stop hiccups. Some of them I find questionable, but others seem reasonable, for example:
- Holding your breath for a few seconds (i.e. Valsalva maneuver)
- Drinking water to help foods that’s “stuck” make its way down
- Pulling out your tongue (potential stimulation of the vagus nerve)
- Breathing into a paper bag: this raises the carbon dioxide level in the blood, calming the nerve and muscle irritability that causes hiccups.