What causes hiccups and how they can be cured?

One hiccup is funny, twice can be hilarious, but having more than that can be extremely annoying when you have them. But, have you ever wondered where these little weird sounds come from? Well, the science underlying this strange body function is super amusing.

Hiccups, which is also spelled as hiccoughs, occur in your diaphragm. Naturally, this dome-shaped muscle pulls down during inhalation, allowing air to get into your lungs, and then eases during exhalation, permitting air to go out of your lung through your mouth and nose.

However, if irritants get into the way, it causes sudden, involuntary spasms. When the diaphragm contracts, the vocal cords suddenly snap, producing the distinct hiccup sound. While men and women tend to get hiccups as frequent as each other, the former is prone to hiccups that last over 24 hours.

So, why do hiccups happen? There are an array of reasons why they occur. Some of them are physical, while others are emotional as they stem deep down to the nerves that connect the diaphragm to the brain. Few of the usual causes include:

  • feeling excited or nervous
  • eating too much or too swiftly
  • sudden temperatures changes
  • drinking alcohol and carbonated drinks
  • noxious fumes
  • gulping air while chewing gum or sucking a candy
  • stress

Hiccups usually are short-term and often goes away on their own without treatment. However, in rare and extreme cases, they can last for a while. The longest recorded hiccup attack lasted for 68 years, registering roughly 430 millions hiccups!

There are various reasons why hiccups stick around. Sometimes, it’s due to the damage and irritation to the nerves linked to the diaphragm. It is so sensitive that a sore throat or a hair nudging your eardrum may impact on these nerves.

Disorders in the central nervous system, such as meningitis, or encephalitis, may also lead to long-term hiccups. Diabetes and kidney failure and tranquillizers and steroids are other known catalysts of enduring hiccups.

To get rid of a hiccup, you must ‘shock’ the diaphragm to make it back its normal function. Some of the usual remedies you may employ are eating a tablespoon of ice, having a good scare from a friend or family, or drinking water while your ears are plugged.

However, experts say that holding the breath temporarily or breathing into a paper or plastic bag works best, as it lets the lung fill up with carbon dioxide, which eases the diaphragm.

Should the given remedies fail to stop a hiccup attack or persist for a few days, you may need to seek help from a doctor to rule out any underlying condition or provide appropriate medication to put a halt on those annoying hiccups. Your doctor will perform a physical evaluation, and X-rays and blood tests, if necessary.

If a condition is found to be the cause of your hiccups, treatments of the said condition should be done to stop the attack. Certain medications, such as Chlorpromazine, Baclofen, and Chlorpromazine, can also be prescribed to ease the symptoms.

If it still doesn’t work, surgical and invasive procedures will be the best options. Your doctor may advise injecting anaesthetic that can obstruct the phrenic nerve, stopping those uncomfortable hiccups.

Another alternative would be implanting a stimulation device that can send electrical signals to the vagus nerve. While it has been used to aid in epilepsy, it can also do wonders in stopping long-term hiccups.

Another option is to surgically implant a battery-operated device to deliver mild electrical stimulation to your vagus nerve. This procedure is most commonly used to treat epilepsy, but it has also helped control persistent hiccups.

While they are hilarious, you should never take hiccups for granted. If they intervene with your breathing, eating, and sleeping habits, you should seek immediate medical attention. Also, watch out for other symptoms, such as fever, vomiting, stomach pain, or coughing up blood when you hiccup, as these may indicate other severe conditions.

More Readings

Hiccup (Wikipedia)

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