Have you ever had an embarrassing bout of hiccups at a specific time in your life? We’ve all experienced the struggle with trying to keep your hiccups as quiet as possible, and at the same time hoping that it would end soon.
Believe it or not, the longest bout of hiccups actually lasted 68 years. This happened to Charles Osborne in 1922 when he was lifting a hog for slaughter and persisted until 1990.1
The length of hiccups actually varies depending on different factors. The average amount of hiccups a person has is around 65 times.
What Are Hiccups?
Hiccups are actually caused by the involuntary spasms of the diaphragm. The diaphragm tightens and helps in the removal of excess air in the stomach. There is no clear explanation on why these occur. But there have been various theories, with some even going as far back as the pre-evolutionary world.
One study explains that there is a link between the existence of hiccups with that of the tadpole’s breathing patterns. William Whitelaw explains that tadpoles have the ability to breathe underwater and breathe on land.
This mechanism greatly resembles that of a hiccup, wherein the tadpole fills its mouth with water and forces the air out of the gills.
When a hiccup occurs, the action is triggered by the brain stem, which apparently still sends out signals for actions that have been rendered useless. One of these is the occurrence of hiccups and the signal the brain sends out to the diaphragm to expel water to the gills.2
There are three classifications which vary on the length and duration of hiccups. According to the British Medical Journal (BMJ), hiccups are divided into two categories: benign hiccups and persistent intractable hiccups.
Benign hiccups are said to last from a few seconds to an hour, while persistent intractable hiccups last up to several years.3
Palliative Care Medicines Information, on the other hand, divides hiccups into three categories: acute, persistent and intractable hiccups. Acute hiccups are the hiccups that last up to 48 hours, persistent hiccups last for over 48 hours and intractable hiccups last for more than a month.4
Common Causes of Hiccups
Hiccups can happen to an individual because of various factors. Some of the leading causes of hiccups include:
• Overeating or Eating Too Fast
This may cause hiccups because eating too fast gives you an opening for overeating, since you’re not giving your body enough time to gauge your stomach’s content. Eating too fast also allows you to swallow more air than normal.5
• Drinking Alcoholic Beverages
Drinking alcohol is said to cause hiccups because it causes acid reflux. Because of acid reflux, the vagus nerve that runs from the brain to your abdomen gets irritated, which then causes hiccups.6
• Eating Spicy Food
Eating spicy food can also cause hiccups because of the release of cryptocapsin, capsaicin, capsicidin and other chemicals. These irritate the esophagus and the stomach and sometimes even travel to the lungs. Hiccups are your body’s way of expelling the chemical from your lungs.7
Stress and anxiety can also cause hiccups because they trigger a rapid change in a person’s breathing pattern and speed. This may cause hiccups because of the pressure it applies on the diaphragm.8
• Drinking Carbonated Drinks
Soda and other carbonated drinks allow excessive carbon dioxide (CO2) to enter your stomach. You then get hiccups to expel the excess CO2 in moderation.
Take note that there are other factors that can hint on a more serious underlying cause. Persistent hiccups may be caused by the hormonal imbalance if you’re pregnant, by nerve irritation when the nerves in the diaphragm are irritated, by brain tumors, or cancer if the tumor is pressing down on the diaphragm.9
Ways to Get Rid of Mild Hiccups
There are countless ways to get rid of hiccups. Some people might say that holding your breath can make it stop, while others attest that gargling ice water will do the trick.
These things may work for other people and actually fail for others. But don’t be disappointed because there are more ways to help you eliminate hiccups, such as these simple tricks:
• Breathe into a paper bag.
It is said that breathing into a paper bag helps in stopping hiccups because the increase in carbon dioxide that enters the lungs allows the diaphragm to contract thus allowing breathing to come back to normal. This works similarly when you hold your breath.10
• Drink water.
Drinking water makes you employ a kind of rhythmic movement along your esophagus which in turn helps your body override the spasms of the diaphragm. It is also said that drinking cold water soothes the irritated part of the diaphragm and allows breathing to take on its normal pace.11
You can also try drinking water while blocking both ears. This will stimulate the nerve endings, which in turn stimulates the vagus nerve.12
• Eat a spoonful of peanut butter.
The process of trying to swallow peanut butter interrupts the breathing pattern and the rhythm of the hiccups. I do recommend using raw almond butter instead.13
• Eat a lemon wedge with bitter angostura.
This is the cure that bartenders say really works for their customers. The person with the hiccups is asked to eat a lemon wedge (without the pit) which was doused with bitter angostura. This apparently worked for 14 out of 16 individuals tested.14
• Press on the palm of your hand with your thumb.
It is said that the pressure in the middle of your hand distracts your body from the focus it has on your hiccups.15
Other suggestions are acupuncture, hypnosis and using smelling salts. If you suffer from persistent or intractable hiccups that do not go away even with these natural remedies, seek a physician to help you determine what’s causing this condition, and how it can be resolved.
How Can You Prevent Hiccups?
While the probability of getting hiccups certainly cannot be removed entirely from your life, there are certain points that should be remembered to avoid the usual bouts of hiccups. Keep these following pointers in mind:
- Eat slowly and chew your food well
- Avoid talking while eating
- Avoid drinking alcohol or any food that may trigger acid reflux
- Avoid smoking cigarettes
If you get hiccups on an occasional basis, there is nothing to be alarmed about. It’s perfectly normal to get hiccups on occasion. Even babies in utero get them. Try the suggestions listed above the next time you get them to be rid of them as soon as possible.