After wolfing down an entrée, and some tasty desserts with a carbonated beverage, you begin to feel your diaphragm tighten, and your vocal cords suddenly close as you make an unexpected “hic” sound — a classic case of the hiccups. The uncomfortable but short-lived experience has you holding your breath, hopping on one foot, and running back and forth across the room, all because this pet remedy worked that one time. A few hiccups and hops later, you may begin to ask yourself what causes a hiccup and why do we make a "hic" sound?
Hiccups Before Birth
You may try to recall back to the first time you got a hiccup and what you did to make it go away. However, no matter how hard you try you won’t remember because it was before you were even born. Typically, toward the end of gestation, it is believed fetuses often hiccup in the womb, says the Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science, to prepare the fetus for breathing air after birth. While the fetus hiccupping is significantly reduced between 24 to 46 weeks, breathing movements increase at this time.
Eating and Drinking Your Way to Hiccups
Although hiccups can be traced back to before our birth, modifiable everyday habits are what lead to the occasional bouts. A full stomach such as quickly eating a plate of nachos or mac and cheese, and drinking carbonated beverages, is one of the main irritants that will increase the likelihood of hiccups. These unhealthy eating habits lead to distention of the stomach that irritate the diaphragm and cause it to go into a spasm as you briefly gulp air. It is the sudden muscle contractions that leads to the closing of the epiglottis — the space between the vocal cords that protects the glottis — to shut off and product the hic sound, says the Mayo Clinic.
Hiccup Cures, Do They Really Work?
While the reason as to why we hiccup seems straightforward, the home remedies to treat the hiccups are anything but practical. Whether your hiccup has lasted a few minutes, or a few hours, sometimes unorthodox techniques are effective. The scare cure has been deemed effective in treating hiccups because it diverts the brain’s resources away from the nerves responsible for the hiccups while directly interfering with or stimulating the parts of the body involved.
According to LiveScience, scaring someone who has the hiccups jump-starts the breath pattern and also gives an overriding stimulus to the sympathetic nervous system — reduces digestion secrets; speeds the heart; contracts blood vessels. In other words, when the person is startled, there is a sympathetic stimulation that could lead to the cessation of hiccups. Most cases of the hiccups resolve themselves without any whacky remedies.
When the Case of the Hiccups Gets Serious
If you have tried to simply hold your breath, breathe into a paper bag, and still have hiccups that last longer than 48 hours — persistent hiccups — or, hiccups that last longer than a month — intractable hiccups — this could be a sign of a more serious health problem. Intractable hiccups, although rare, can cause exhaustion, lack of sleep, and even weight loss. They can be brought on by a range of problems from the central nervous system such as cancer, infections, and stroke to mental health problems.
To avoid the hiccups, don’t pig out, eat slower, and remember to drink in moderation, responsibly.