Hiccups are one of the most annoying experiences anyone can encounter. From holding your breath to standing on your head, there are plenty of old wives tales that claim to help get rid of hiccups. Here we break down all you need to know about hiccups and how to relieve yourself from them, fast.
What are hiccups?
Also known as synchronous diaphragmatic flutter (SDF) in the field of medicine, hiccups are brief, involuntary contractions of the diaphragm muscles. The diaphragm is the muscle just below the lungs that separates the chest cavity from the abdomen. It contracts at the same time as the voice box and this leads to closure of the epiglottis. The epiglottis is a flap of tissue that sits beneath the tongue at the back of the throat. Its main function is to close over the windpipe while you're eating, to prevent food entering your airways. (1)
What causes hiccups?
While there hasn’t been any one definitive answer, there are several causes of hiccups. While some causes have not yet been proven, most people get hiccups from diaphragm disturbances. For example irritation of the phrenic nerve (the nerve that extends from the neck to the chest and is responsible for controlling the movement and sensations of the diaphragm), some brain tumors, kidney failure, having an enlarged liver and different types of cancers can all be probable causes. These diaphragm disturbances could be from acid reflux, smoking, coughing, swallowing air excessively, a sudden change in the stomach temperature, drinking carbonated alcoholic beverages like beer, eating dry bread and spicy foods.
How long do hiccups last?
Normally, hiccups last from a few minutes to several hours. When they last for more than two days they are called, 'persistent' hiccups. Though rare, some last even for more than a month and these are called, 'intractable' hiccups. Such hiccups usually indicate underlying health problems, ranging from ulcers to brain tumors. If you have frequent cases of hiccups, check with your doctor to ensure you do not have underlying health problems. Hiccups affect both adults and children and despite the fact that infants encounter more hiccups than adults, it's proven that males are more susceptible to hiccups than females (who knew!).
Longest attack of hiccups
Charles Osborne (1894-1991) of Anthon, Iowa, started hiccupping in 1922 while attempting to weigh a hog before slaughtering it. He was unable to find a cure, and continued hiccupping until February 1990, a total of 68 years! During the first few decades, he hiccupped up to 40 times a minute, slowing to 20 a minute in later years. He was entered in the Guinness World Records for the man with the longest hiccup attack. (2)
How to prevent hiccups in the long run
Monitoring what causes your hiccups means that you will be able to help prevent them. Here are some simple ways you can prevent hiccups:
1. Stop smoking
Swallowing excess air is what can cause a build up of hiccups. Try to stop smoking if the situation persists.
2. Eat slowly
Taking your time when eating your food is a primary way to prevent hiccups as it prevents you from swallowing air.
3. Watch your alcohol intake
Notice if you begin to hiccup more after you drink alcohol. Your body may be telling you that you need a break or that something isn't sitting right.
4. Avoid spicy foods and dry bread
Some people get their hiccups immediately after eating spicy food or dry bread. If you react the same way, you should avoid eating such foods at all costs.
Another common hiccup cause that most people don’t realise is sudden excitement or emotional stress. It's advisable to avoid stress at all costs.
Home remedies for hiccups
There are many home remedies for hiccups that can help:
1. Breathe into a paper bag
If you get a hiccup attack you should breathe in and out from a paper bag. The main purpose for this remedy, and others like rapidly swallowing water, is to increase the levels of carbon oxide in the bloodstream. High carbon oxide levels causes an increase in acidity of the blood. This in turn causes release of calcium ions in the blood. These block the nervous system activities that lead to relaxation of muscle activity, like muscle spasms that come with hiccups.
2. Eat a spoonful of sugar
Eating a spoonful of sugar to relieve hiccups has been proven to work as sugar stimulates the vagus nerve of the brain. This is a cranial nerve whose function is to convey sensory information about the organs to the brain. This disruption causes the muscle spasms at the diaphragm to stop and so, no more hiccups.
3. Distract yourself or get scared
Distraction is an effective method to getting rid of hiccups. Getting frightened has been used to cure simple hiccup attacks. Persistent and intractable hiccups need to be attended to immediately.
If not treated early, hiccups can be the source of insomnia, fatigue, weight loss, communication problems and even improper healing of post-surgical wounds.
Despite the frequency of hiccups and the fact that they occur in every mammal, the hiccup has remained to be one condition that has yet to be understood clearly. Why it occurs and if it has any importance to the wellbeing of a human being is still debated.
Let's hope that with continued research, concrete treatments are going to be discovered and finally put an end to these annoying hic... hic... hiccups!
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