What is Causing My Hiccups?

Last modified: August 2, 2019

Richard Honaker M.D.
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Just when you’re about to start off your quarterly sales presentation that you’ve carefully planned and rehearsed, the most unexpected thing happens. You get hiccups. There are a lot of reasons that can cause hiccups and in this particular case, its nervousness.

It all starts when something irritates your diaphragm, the muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen and helps you breathe. The resultant involuntary contractions of the diaphragm are followed by sudden closure of your vocal cords leading to the production of the distinct ‘hic’ sound.

Though generally hiccups are harmless, last only for a few minutes, and do not require any treatment, they can make you feel uncomfortable or even embarrassed. According to reader’s digest, the longest case of hiccups lasted a whopping 68 years! Charles Osborne had hiccups from 1922 to 1960, until he was 96 years old.

What’s Causing My Hiccups?

While sometimes there are no apparent reasons for hiccups, there are some known factors that can irritate the diaphragm and cause it to spasm. One of the main causes is eating too much or eating too quickly. Hence, it’s advisable to avoid large meals and eat at a leisurely pace when possible.

Sudden temperature change or accidentally swallowing air, while chewing gum or sucking on a candy, can also cause hiccups. Another leading cause is nervousness or excitement. This is the reason why people tend to have hiccups when they hear exciting news or have to speak in front of an audience.

A few other culprits are carbonated beverages, alcohol, and cigarette smoke. Hiccups are just one of the health risks these items pose. According to a recent study, smoking and excessive alcohol use, are two of the five reasons that can cut one’s life short.

There is also evidence that links hiccups to stress. Hiccups may be a short-term result but stress can also cause long-term health problems. Hence, it is important to try and reduce your stress levels. One way to go about it is through exercise, particularly yoga and meditation.

According to Harvard Health, it’s good to take up yoga because it reduces stress and anxiety; reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and easing respiration. In addition to yoga, some other popular fitness trends of 2018 can help you eliminate stress and transition to a healthier lifestyle.

Sometimes another illness can also trigger hiccups. For instance, when you have a sore throat or an ear infection, irritation to the vagus nerve or phrenic nerves, can cause you to have a bout of hiccups. Similarly, gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD), or acid reflux, is also another cause of hiccups.

How Do I Make Hiccups Stop?

Hiccups usually go away on their own, so the best solution is to wait it out. However, if you’d like to rush things, some of the below mentioned tips may be helpful in treatment of hiccups. Though, there has been little scientific evidence to back these up, a large number of people swear by them:

  • Breathing into a paper bag or holding your breath. This works at times because the buildup of carbon dioxide in the lungs helps relax the diaphragm
  • Interrupting the normal breathing cycle by pulling your knees up to your chest and leaning forward
  • Rubbing the back of the neck
  • Sipping ice-cold water to sooth the affected muscles
  • Eating something sweet, like granulated sugar or consuming something sour such as lemon or vinegar

My Hiccups Have Been Going On for a While

According to a recent research on hiccups, clinical history plays a key role in understanding what is causing hiccups. Smoking, drugs usage, gastrointestinal symptoms, cardiorespiratory symptoms, and neurological symptoms can give an indication about the underlying cause. Usually this is followed by a physical examination and additional tests.

Generally hiccups aren’t something to worry about. However, if your hiccups have gone on for longer than 48 hours or you are having recurrent bouts of hiccups, which are interfering with everyday activities such as eating, talking and sleeping, it’s a good idea to speak to a physician and get timely treatment.

Some people suffer from chronic hiccups. This means that the hiccups last more than a few days or are recurrent. Chronic hiccups can interfere with daily activities and in a few of these cases, hiccups are being caused by central nervous system or metabolic disorders. Hence, it’s advisable to speak to your doctor to rule out any serious health problems.

Author: Erum is a public relations professional who specializes in technology comms. She is an avid reader, a travel enthusiast, and a self-proclaimed story-teller. Before joining the content team at Your Doctors Online, Erum was the PR manager at Hill & Knowlton Strategies and was handling communications and content strategy for a diverse portfolio of brands. She is also a new mom who is finding her way around motherhood.

Disclaimer: This article provides general information and is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or medical condition. If you require specific advice, please consult one of our medical professionals through the app. However, in case of an emergency, please call 911.

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