What is the one thing that is frustrating to the person who’s got them, funny to the person who sees them, annoying to the one who hears them, and starts with the letter ‘H’? Yup, you guessed right. Hiccups! We’ve all had them, have been equally annoyed by them, was not sure why we started getting them in the first place and not sure how exactly why they had gone away either! That’s could basically be anyone’s ‘simplified definition’ for a hiccup, since for most of us, that’s all we know!
Say no more. We’ve got it all covered. Let’s look at What is a hiccup in the first place, why they appear, how to get rid of them, and look at pretty much everyone’s worst nightmare – “What if they never stop?”
What is a Hiccup?
Despite what many people may think, hiccups do not start from the throat, where we mostly feel the spasm in. It originates from the diaphragm, which is the dome-shaped thin muscle which separates the abdomen from the chest. A hiccup is an involuntary contraction of the diaphragm, caused by any kind of irritation of the diaphragm. Each one of these contractions, which happen without your control, suddenly closes your vocal cords, thus making a “hic” sound.
What are the Causes of Hiccups?
The cause of a hiccup could be physical or mental as well. Because the actual irritation doesn’t occur on the diaphragm itself, but on the nerve connecting the diaphragm and the brain. This could occur due to several reasons:
- Eating too much: Your diaphragm lies on top of your stomach. If you eat too much, along with the expansion of the stomach, your diaphragm could be irritated, resulting in hiccups.
- Eating too fast, too furiously: This is one of the most common reasons. When you eat too quickly, you tend to swallow a lot of air, along with the food. This can make the stomach bloat. Also, people who eat too fast, tend to eat too much as well, which by itself could be a reason to irritate the diaphragm.
- Eating spicy food: Eating extra spicy food can stimulate the nerves in the oesophagus, which is the small tube that carries food from your throat to the stomach. This could create a spasm in the diaphragm.
- Eating food which is too hot or too cold: Due to the same reason as above, this too can cause the nerves in the oesophagus to be stimulated, thus causing a spasm in the diaphragm.
- Eating dry food: Eating dry food such as bread could also trigger hiccups due to multiple reasons. Dry food can easily tickle the back of your throat, which could trigger a spasm in the diaphragm. Also, dry foods are a bit hard to chew and swallow. Hence you need to chew them more. This could cause more air to be filled inside the stomach, which could cause the stomach to be bloated, then causing irritation in the diaphragm.
- Chewing gum: When you’re chewing gum, you tend to open your mouth more, thus unintentionally causing air to be swallowed. This could bloat the stomach and then irritate the diaphragm.
- Sucking on candy: Sucking on candy such as lollipops can also cause too much of air to be swallowed, thus causing a bloated belly and an irritated diaphragm.
- Drinking carbonated drinks: Drinking carbonated drinks gets too much gas into your stomach, which can make it bloat, thus irritating the diaphragm. This is a very common cause for hiccups.
- Drinking alcohol: Drinking alcohol (especially beer) could fill too much gas in your stomach, causing a bloated belly and an irritated diaphragm. Also, alcohol could irritate your oesophagus too.
- Talking while eating: When your mom has asked you not to talk while you’re eating, she probably didn’t have hiccups in mind. However, this also could cause hiccups, since this could cause a lot of air to be entered the stomach, thus causing irritation in the diaphragm.
- Laughing: This is a very funny one (Pun intended). Laughing could cause hiccups; not the usual laughs, but excessive laughing. Tickling someone excessively might make the person laugh too much, thus sending a lot of air to the stomach, thus sudden expansion of the stomach causing the diaphragm to be irritated, then resulting on hiccups.
- Sudden temperature changes: A sudden temperature change, such as walking in the sun for a while and walking into a cold, air-conditioned restaurant, or vice-versa could stimulate the nerves in the oesophagus, trachea or the bronchi. This could reflex contractions in the diaphragm.
- Excitement: This is a weird one, and is a tricky one as well. How can being excited create hiccups? When you are excited, you might swallow a lot of air in, when you’re exclaiming with “ooh”s and “aah”s. This sudden expansion of the stomach could easily irritate the diaphragm, thus causing hiccups.
What are the Causes of Long Term Hiccups?
Above-mentioned are the reasons why short term hiccups may arise. When it comes to hiccups, “short-term” means from a few minutes up to 48 hours. Imagine a scenario of you suddenly getting a seeming-to-be-an ordinary hiccup which continues for a few minutes? And then it continues for a few hours? And then the fear starts to hit you. What if it never stops? And then it continues for a few days… a few weeks… a few months… Going ‘hic’ every few seconds… when you eat… when you work… when you read… when you rest… and when you’re trying to sleep too! That’s a horror story by itself!
These are called ‘chronic hiccups’. While these types of hiccups are less frequent, surely they are not uncommon. According to the Guinness World Book of Records, an American national named Charles Osborne holds the world record for the longest attack of hiccups, which had lasted for almost 68 years!
Hiccup is a symptom; not the cause. Regarding chronic hiccups, it can be somewhat hard to find the root cause. Let’s look at some reasons for chronic hiccups.
- Medications: Some medications are known to trigger hiccups as a side-effect. Corticosteroids, which is a class of drug used to treat asthma, arthritis, lupus and allergies, and is known to cause hiccups. Benzodiazepines, which is a type of drug used to treat anxiety, panics, seizures, muscle relaxation and alcohol withdrawal also have hiccup-causing side-effects. Also, medications used for acid reflux, antibiotics and chemotherapy medications are known to cause hiccups as well.
- Anaesthesia: If you have recently undergone general anaesthesia, you have the possibility of getting hiccups for a few days.
- Abdominal surgery: People who have had abdominal surgery are known to have hiccups due to continuous irritations that might have caused on the diaphragm, at least until the wounds are healed.
- Mental or emotional issues: People with mental and emotional issues are known to have short or long term hiccups, due to anxiety, stress and excitement.
- Liver diseases: Hiccups are one of the symptoms of liver failure. While a diagnosis cannot be made with this symptom alone, other symptoms such as abdominal swelling, swelling of legs, weight loss, appetite loss, nausea and itchiness could help such a cause to be identified.
- Abdominal illnesses: Illnesses in the stomach or the diaphragm are also known to cause hiccups. Some known illnesses which could cause hiccups are Crohn’s disease, stomach ulcers, hepatitis and appendicitis.
- Pneumonia and pleurisy: Pneumonia, which is an infection of lungs, and pleurisy, which is an inflammation of lung lining are also known to display the common symptom of ‘hiccups’.
- Cancers or tumours: Hiccups are very common among people suffering from cancers or tumours. Hiccups may occur due to cancer or tumour itself, or due to the medications provided for such illnesses as well.
- Central nervous system disorders: While some disorders in the central nervous system could trigger hiccups, it would be extremely hard to determine the root cause, just based on chronic hiccups.
- Heart diseases: Chronic hiccups are a known symptom of any inflammation around the heart of an impending stroke. However, while hiccups are not the only symptom for a stroke, all strokes do not precede with hiccups either.
How to Get Rid of Hiccups?
There are various remedies for hiccups. Some are commonly known while some are unconventional and less popular. Let’s look at the top 10 ways to get rid of hiccups.
- Hold your breath: This is the most widely known cure. Hiccups happen due to an irritation in the diaphragm. Taking a deep breath and holding it in increases the carbon dioxide in your lungs. This tends to relax your diaphragm, thus causing stopping of the hiccups.
- Breathe into a small paper bag: the Same principle from above applies here as well. When you breathe into a small paper bag, you build up a high concentration of carbon dioxide in your lungs, which would relax the diaphragm, which would stop the hiccups.
- Cover your mouth: You can get the same results by cupping your mouth while hiccupping as well. You should continue breathing with your mouth, while it is covered. This is also a method to build carbon dioxide in your lungs.
- Drink some water: Drink some water, in a series of quick sips. When you’re gulping continuously, your oesophagus is rhythmically contracted, which might ‘override’ the spasms of the diaphragm.
- Use your hands: When you’re having hiccups, try pressing one of your palms with the other hand’s thumb. Press it hard. It might be quite discomforting… and that’s good! The discomfort distracts your central nervous system, which is currently ‘busy’ with triggering hiccups, which can stop the hiccups.
- Stick out your tongue: You’d better do this when no one’s watching, though. Stick your tongue out, as much as you could. This apparently, could stimulate the opening between vocal cords, which help you breathe more smoothly. This may put an end to the annoying hiccups.
- Plug your ears: This might sound a bit weird, but it works. Take both of your hands and while covering both of your nostrils tight with the thumbs, plug your ears with your index or middle fingers. Breathe with your mouth, very calmly, while counting to 30. Then unplug your ears and keep breathing calmly and softly. Voila! Hiccups should be gone!
- Press the earlobes: Press the soft area behind your earlobes. Or you can even message them, softly. Do it for a while. This sends a signal of relaxation via the vagus nerve, which is also connected to the diaphragm. This might cause the spasms to stop.
- Hug your knees: Sit on a comfortable flat surface and bring your knees to the chest. Stay like this for two minutes. This compresses the diaphragm, thus have the possibility of putting an end to the hiccups.
- Eat some sugar: Finally, here’s a method that you would like. Apparently, a spoonful of sugar doesn’t only help the medicine go down. It helps get rid of hiccups too. When you’re having hiccups, take a spoonful of sugar and swallow it without munching it. The sweet grains would slightly irritate the oesophagus and make the phrenic nerves to “reset” themselves. This may bring an end to the hiccups.
While you can select any of the above methods, you can also try multiple methods, simultaneously, to get rid of the annoying hiccups too. However, these above-mentioned methods would only work for the ‘normal’ hiccups, which usually last for a few seconds, up to even 48 hours. If it exceeds 48 hours, it may turn out to be a case of chronic hiccups.
There’s still a bit of mysteriousness around the deep underlying reason behind different cases of chronic hiccups, as it may or may not stem from a serious health concern. While in the case of such an instance, while you do not need to unnecessarily panic, it’s always good to get advice from your healthcare provider, as soon as possible.
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