Hold your breath and spin around in circles. Drink a glass of water upside down. Stand on your head.

As soon as someone gets the hiccups, all the tips and tricks come out, each more ridiculous than the last. And I’m sure you’ve heard all of these and more.

But what are hiccups? What causes them? Why do we get them?  These are questions that many of us have had while having to suffer through the hiccups. So let’s take a look.

What Are Hiccups?

The medical term for hiccup is actually synchronous diaphragmatic flutter or singultus. A mouthful, I know, but from this term you can see that it has to do with a person’s diaphragm.

A hiccup occurs when the diaphragm involuntarily contracts at the same time as your voice box, or larynx, contracts. While this is going on, your glottis, which is the opening between your vocal chords, closes off completely. This combination of factors causes a sudden rush of air to flow into your lungs, making the “hic” sound. (1)

Because your glottis is completely closed, your intake of air is completely blocked every time you hiccup. And, as you may have noticed, hiccups tend to almost follow a rhythm, meaning the time between each hiccup is relatively constant.

But while most people are able to rid themselves of the hiccups after a few minutes, there are occasionally more severe cases of hiccups that can last a month or more. These are referred to as prolonged hiccups or chronic hiccups.

If you do have the hiccups for longer than 48 hours, you should see your doctor, as it could be a sign of a more serious condition.

What Causes Hiccups?

The exact cause of hiccups is relatively unknown, but there are some things that seem to be pretty common for giving people hiccups. Such as:

  • Drinking carbonated beverages, such as sodas
  • Eating hot or spicy foods
  • Eating too much or too quickly
  • Experiencing a large amount of stress
  • Gas in the stomach pressing against the diaphragm

How Do I Get Rid Of Hiccups?

This is where things usually get interesting. Everyone has their methods, and while most of them seem to be simply for the entertainment of those watching, if something works with you then you should stick with it.

But, in case you haven’t found your own strange recipe for getting rid of hiccups, here are some pretty good ideas:

  • Swallow some granulated sugar
  • Sit down and hug your knees as close to your chest as possible
  • Swallow a small amount of vinegar, just enough to taste
  • Hold your breath for a short time, breathe out, and repeat three or four times
  • Place gentle pressure on your diaphragm
  • While swallowing, place gentle pressure on your nose

The effectiveness of these tactics are uncertain, but one or two may work in a pinch.

Conclusion

So, now you know! Most of the time hiccups are just an annoying occurrence that you have to endure for a couple of minutes, and then they go away. And for most people, they aren’t that bothersome. If you do have a case of prolonged hiccups, make sure to visit your doctor. Otherwise, try some of the tactics above to get rid of them, or I’m sure your family and friends have some suggestions for you to try as well.

Resources: 

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3325297/