Once is funny, twice is hilarious, and anything more than that is usually just annoying. We’ve all had them, but do you actually know where they come from? They’re hiccups, and they’re the strange little sounds that can escape from your mouth without warning.
Hiccups start much lower in your body, though -- in the diaphragm, the dome-shaped muscle between your lungs and stomach. Normally, the diaphragm pulls down when you inhale to let air into your lungs, and then relaxes when you exhale so air can flow back out of your lungs to exit your nose and mouth.
But if something irritates your diaphragm, it can spasm, forcing you to suddenly suck air into your throat, where it hits your voice box. That makes your vocal cords suddenly close, creating the distinct “hic!” sound.
Why Do Hiccups Happen?
Hiccups can happen for a lot of reasons -- some of them are physical, and some emotional. That’s because the actual irritation happens in the nerve connecting the brain to the diaphragm. Some common causes include:
- Eating too much or too quickly
- Feeling nervous or excited
- Drinking carbonated beverages or too much alcohol
- A sudden change in temperature
- Swallowing air while sucking on candy or chewing gum
Hiccups are usually temporary, but in rare cases, they can stick around -- for a while. It’s usually because of damage or aggravation to the nerves connected to the diaphragm. Everything from a hair touching your eardrum to a sore throat can affect these nerves, and in more serious cases, a tumor, goiter, or cyst in the neck can damage them.
Hiccups that last a while can also be because of central nervous system disorders like encephalitis or meningitis, or metabolic disorders like diabetes or kidney failure. Drugs like steroids or some tranquilizers can trigger long-term hiccups, too.
And even certain procedures, especially ones that require anesthesia, can give you hiccups. If you’ve been hiccupping for more than 2 days, or if they are severe enough to interfere with eating, breathing, sleeping or are causing you distress, you should make an appointment with your doctor.
Also, talk to your doctor immediately if you have any kind of stomach pain, fever, shortness of breath, vomiting, or cough up blood with your hiccups.
How to Make Them Stop
If you’re hoping that hanging upside down or having a friend scare you will get your hiccups to stop, we hate to disappoint you. But there’s no scientific proof that these remedies work.
However, some experts think holding your breath or breathing into a paper bag might do the trick; both techniques make carbon dioxide build up in your lungs, which might relax the diaphragm.
If all else fails, and your hiccups continue for several days or more, your doctor may try different medications to see if they can put an end to those uncomfortable hiccups. Good luck!