Almost everyone gets hiccups occasionally. Here’s why they happen and how to get relief.
We’ve all felt the embarrassment of a hiccup at the most inopportune of times. They come out of nowhere and we count the moments until they stop as unexpectedly as they start. But even though hiccups are a common occurrence and everyone gets them, few people know what causes them.
Here’s some insight about what hiccups are, why they happen and how to (maybe) get rid of them.
What are hiccups?
Your diaphragm is a muscle that separates your chest from your abdomen. It plays an important role in breathing, as well as hiccups. As you breathe, your diaphragm contracts when you inhale, pulling air into your lungs. Then it relaxes as you exhale, pushing air out.
During a hiccup, your diaphragm involuntarily contracts between breaths. This causes your vocal cords to suddenly and quickly close to prevent air from coming in, producing the characteristic hiccup sound. For most people, a bout of hiccups usually only lasts a few minutes and is harmless. In rare cases, they can be chronic and may be a sign of an underlying medical condition.
What causes hiccups?
It’s not exactly known why your diaphragm involuntarily contracts to cause hiccups. But it’s thought that it may happen when the nerves involved in breathing become irritated. Here are some culprits that may increase your chance of getting hiccups:
- Eating too much
- Eating or drinking too quickly
- Drinking carbonated or alcoholic beverages
- Swallowing excess air, such as while chewing gum or sucking on candy
- Experiencing sudden excitement, stress or fear
- Sudden temperature changes
How do you get rid of hiccups?
Just as we don’t know exactly why hiccups start, we also don’t have a proven way for how to make them stop. But there are plenty of methods people have tried—and plenty of old wives’ tales, too.
Here are some of those tips for getting rid of hiccups, although they’re not guaranteed to work:
- Breathe into a paper bag
- Hold your breath and swallow 3 times
- Hold your nose closed and breathe out of your mouth for 5 seconds
- Have someone unexpectedly scare you
- Pull on your tongue
- Gargle with or sip cold water
- Swallow a teaspoon of sugar
- Bite into a lemon
Most bouts of hiccups only last a few minutes so don’t get frustrated if these home remedies don’t work for you. By the time you’re done trying them, your hiccups may stop anyway. If your hiccups don’t go way after a day or two or if they’re severe enough to affect breathing, eating or sleeping, call a doctor.
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Date Last Reviewed: January 17, 2022
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD