Who hasn’t experienced bouts of annoying hiccups at some point in their lives? As most people know, these aggravating and involuntary hiccup fits can make it difficult to carry on a conversation, get through a meal or even keep a simple train of thought. All you want to do is stop hiccups. On average, a bout of hiccups will result in a person hiccupping from four to 60 times a minute. (source: eMedicine)
Although hiccup spells last from a few minutes to a few hours, some protracted episodes will last days, months and in rare cases, even years. As you know, if you can't stop hiccups it always seems like years. Those lasting longer than 48 hours are referred to as persistent hiccups. In cases where hiccups last for more than a month they are considered intractable hiccups. In both cases, serious health problems can occur and in the most extreme cases, lead to death.
For countless people, hiccups get started in the womb. Biogenetic law proposes that fetuses use hiccups in breathing before their lungs are fully developed. This can help explain why premature infants spend up to 2 and a half percent of the time hiccupping much more than full-term babies. (source: eMedicine)
Did you know the most likely time hiccups occur is at night? Also, as we age, hiccups tend to decrease. Moreover, women hiccup more during the first two weeks of their menstrual cycle while pregnant women far less than non-pregnant women do.
Scientists have been debating why people suffer hiccups for decades. Continue reading to find out what happens during a hiccup, theories how hiccups start and what can be done to stop your hiccups.
What are hiccups?
Hiccups are unexpected and involuntary contractions of the diaphragm muscle. When a person experiences hiccups, the hiccup sound that happens is actually made from the muscle contracting repeatedly while the opening between the vocal cords closes shut to check the inflow of air. Discomfort in nerves from the neck to the chest can cause bouts of hiccups.
Hiccups can be linked with a number of serious conditions such as pneumonia or kidney failure. However, for the most part, hiccups are not considered very serious and hardly ever cause health problems with speech or difficulty in eating and sleeping. Even with what we know about hiccups, so far there are no definitive reasons for hiccups to occur.
When to seek medical care
Hiccups are not likely to become a medical emergency but a person should see a doctor if hiccups adversely affect sleeping or eating. Furthermore, medical attention should be sought if hiccups become chronic and persistent lasting greater than 3 hours and are accompanied by severe abdominal pain, high fever, breathing difficulty, spitting up blood, vomiting, or if a person feels as if their throat is going to seize up.
In most cases, hiccups can be evaluated and diagnosed by a physical examination. Lab tests are not always necessary unless of course hiccups are thought to be a symptom of a more serious medical condition.
Hiccups and Home Remedies
At one time or another everyone has tried at least one home remedy to stop their hiccups. Whether any home remedy can stop your hiccups is another story but many people swear that something that they have heard about to stop hiccups works, no matter how unusual.
For as many people who suffer from annoying hiccups it seems like there is just as many home remedies out there to stop hiccups. There are a variety of reasons that some work for some people. In some cases, some are thought to work to stop hiccups when carbon dioxide builds up in the blood stream when, for example, someone holds their breath.
When the nerve that runs to the stomach from the brain (vagus nerve) is stimulated, some believe hiccups will stop. This action occurs when drinking water or when the person trying to get rid of their hiccups pulls their tongue.
Most common home remedies for stopping your hiccups:
- Holding your breath.
- Quickly drinking a glass of water.
- Have someone frighten or surprise you.
- Try using smelling salts.
- Pulling hard on your tongue.
- Put a half teaspoon of sugar on the back of your tongue. Repeat the steps 3 times at 2-minute intervals.
There are many more colorful scenarios for getting rid of hiccups including the old wives tale of naming “ten famous bald men” so as to divert attention from the bout of hiccups helping relax the diaphragm. Also, sticking a finger in the ear or tickling the palate with a swab or similar to the sugar scenario, swallowing a tablespoon of honey has been known to be used to try and stop the hiccups.
In any event, those methods should only be tried if the person suffering hiccups is comfortable with the method. Caution should be used especially with infants and with elderly people who have trouble swallowing or others with serious health issues.
Hiccups, history and more…
People have been wondering what cause hiccups for thousands of years. It was said the Greek Physician Galen believed that hiccups were simply violent emotions that started in the stomach and erupted out from the mouth. Centuries later, this theory has not been disproven, only expanded.
By now, we all know the physical nature of a hiccup when it occurs. Air from the mouth and nose is drawn in during regular breathing and flows through the pharynx, past the glottis and into the larynx and trachea, ending in the lungs. Aiding in the air flow is the diaphragm, a large muscle between the chest and abdomen that moves down when a person inhales and up when he exhales. The diaphragm is controlled by the phrenic nerves and so any irritability to the nerves will cause a spasm of the diaphragm and results in a short, quick breath that is interrupted by the closing of the epiglottis, a flap that protects the glottis or the space between the vocal cords. This sudden closing causes a noise that most of us know as the hiccup.
Hiccups then are the result of diaphragm spasms, but what causes the discord to start them in the first place? Actually, there are really only a handful of reasons for the most common occurrences of hiccups lasting for several minutes. The most likely is a full stomach which pushes against the phrenic nerves of the diaphragm causing irritation and then hiccups. Spicy food in a full stomach can do double damage and hot food can really irritate the nerves. Moreover, excess smoking and drinking can cause a bout of hiccups. Temperature changes outside or inside your stomach from a cold night or a hot beverage, will be enough to spur on hiccups. Differing emotional highs and lows, excitement, stress and shock can result in hiccups.
Hundreds of serious causes from hysteria to heart attacks may be associated with more persistent and intractable hiccups but are generally grouped among five categories including central nervous system and metabolic problems, nerve discomfort, anesthesia or surgery and mental health issues.
Since the causes are so diverse and potentially dangerous, a person who suffers from hiccups should seek medical treatment if hiccups last for more than 48 hours.