What Causes Hiccups and How to Stop Them

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Author Name: Mia Barnes
Date: Wednesday December 30, 2020

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When someone hiccups, it’s hard not to giggle about it. It’s a silly sound that often accompanies a funny face, but hiccups are annoying when they stick around longer than a minute or two. Hiccups are something you’d rather not deal with, especially when you’re at work or school.

Read on to learn what causes hiccups and how you can stop them. They don’t have to disrupt your day and make you self-conscious. Once you know what triggers them and what they are, you can stop them as soon as they start.

What Are Hiccups?

Hiccups are the strange, split-second sound that comes out when your lungs gasp for air and convulse at the same time. They usually happen when you eat too fast, gulp down water or even laugh too forcefully for too long.

They’re a common problem everyone experiences at least once in their lives. Other than an irritable mood, they result in a little embarrassment and put life on pause. While you hiccup, you can’t eat or drink, much less keep up a conversation without them interrupting every few seconds.

What Causes Hiccups?

When you think about taking a deep breath, you likely picture your lungs inflating and deflating. Each breath also affects your diaphragm. It’s a dome-like muscle between your stomach and lungs that contracts and pulls down during each inhale so your lungs have more room to expand. 

When you exhale, your diaphragm relaxes and moves back into place. It may seem robust, but it’s a sensitive muscle that’s easy to irritate. Irritations result in spasms, which translate to hiccups.

The most common causes of hiccups are:

  • Swallowing too much air
  • Overexertion during exercise
  • A blow to the chest or abdomen

You can swallow too much air if you’re gasping while you laugh or experience a panic attack. Overeating can also set off a new round of hiccups. Eating too much food distends your stomach, forcing it into your diaphragm. This pressure can cause hiccups.

The sound they make also has a cause. When your diaphragm contracts, it pushes air up through your throat. At the same time, the thyroarytenoid muscles around your vocal folds resist the airstream by closing together just before the air hits. As the air pushes through the quickly closing folds, it creates the classic hiccup sound.

What Makes Them Last So Long?

Because hiccups are a product of diaphragm nerve irritation, they can go on for some time. Your body needs a bit to calm those inflamed nerves and ease the muscle out of its spasms.

Your hiccup episode could also last longer than you’d like if a distended stomach brings it on. In that case, you’d have to wait for your digestive system to process the food and allow your stomach to contract back to its normal size.

How to Stop Hiccups

There are many ways to stop hiccups, so read about different methods to see which might work for you.

Grab a Paper Bag

Breathing into a paper bag can significantly curb and stop your hiccups. Research found that exhaling and inhaling the same CO2 from your lungs will obstruct the mechanisms causing hiccups by restricting oxygen to your diaphragm. Continue breathing into your paper bag until your heart rate slows and the hiccups ease.

Sip Ice Water

Cold therapy helps people with nerve inflammation and pain. The cold temperature reduces inflammation and swelling, which calms the diaphragm. Sip slowly on ice water to stop your hiccups, being mindful not to gulp and swallow air.

Swallow Sugar Granules

Hiccups engage the afferent limb, which includes the vagus nerve endings that start in the back of the throat. Stimulating these nerves sends electrical impulses to your diaphragm, so it’s helpful to disrupt them with a new sensation.

Sugar granules will require their attention while they travel down your throat, making your vagus nerve endings “forget” about the hiccup reflex.

When to Worry

Most of the time, when someone deals with hiccups, there’s no cause for alarm. They happen for various reasons and typically subside within a few minutes or hours.

If your hiccups continue after 48 hours or keep you from breathing, eating or sleeping, it’s time to consult your doctor. They may advise muscle relaxers or antispasmodic medication. They can also point out lifestyle changes that might avoid the same problem in the future.

In rare cases, hiccups can point to something more severe. Researchers have found that persistent hiccups can indicate the growth of some cancers or result from an acute supratentorial stroke that wasn’t obvious when it happened. Your doctor will order tests to dig further if they suspect these causes for your hiccups.

Try These Tips

Now that you know what causes hiccups and how to stop them, try these tips to see what works for you. With time and practice, you’ll find the tricks you need to conquer your hiccups whenever they occur.

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