Hiccups are perhaps one of the human body’s greatest mysteries; mostly because they seem to come on at completely random points in time. If you’ve ever had the hiccups you’ll know how strange the sensation is. They are more violent than burps and they definitely aren’t the same as a cough, so what are they? More importantly, what actually causes our bodies to involuntarily start spasming while making odd little noises?
For this week’s Ask Lifehacker we are going to try to solve some of the mysteries you might have around the hiccups and hopefully help prepare you before you suffer from an untimely attack in the future.
What are hiccups?
In case you’ve ever wanted to know, the official medical term for hiccups is synchronous diaphragmatic flutter. It doesn’t really have the same ring as the hiccups do, hey?
Imagine instead of saying, “Oh gosh, I have the hiccups” you had to announce, “Goodness me, I’ve suddenly come on with a case of synchronous diaphragmatic flutter”. It’s just too formal.
Also, somehow, the word hiccups just makes sense to me. Probably because it actually makes a ‘hic’ sound when it happens.
Turns out, a lot goes on in your body when you hiccup. According to Queensland Health, your diaphragm (the muscle below your lungs) will suddenly contract while your voice box squeezes at the same time that your epiglottis (the flap at the top of your windpipe) snaps shut. This is what makes that iconic hiccup sound.
So yeah, a lot is going on inside you – which explains why it’s a whole-body reaction when you hiccup.
What causes them?
So now we know what happens when we hiccup, what actually causes them?
You might assume the causes of hiccups to be something wild, mostly because of how weird they are. Unfortunately, it seems like the most common causes of the hiccups are pretty mundane.
These include eating food too quickly, eating spicy or hot food, drinking carbonated drinks, chewing gum or just straight up swallowing air.
Then there are a few hiccups causes that are a little more left of field. Things like hair tickling your eardrum (random), having your environment suddenly change temperatures or even an extreme range of emotions like fear, stress and excitement can actually bring about a case of hiccups.
It seems like just about anything can cause hiccups. How fun for us.
Can you cure them?
If you’ve ever had the hiccups you’d know how annoying and sometimes painful they can be. I’m sure we’ve all Googled “how do you get rid of hiccups?” or tried the classic legend of scaring someone or drinking water upside down. But these methods don’t always seem to work, so how can you get rid of your hiccups?
The short answer is nothing and everything, technically.
What I mean by that is that there is almost no proper evidence of one hiccup cure working any better than the other so keep on scaring people, I guess?
If drinking water while doing a handstand isn’t for you (nor should it be, it’s incredibly dangerous), you can try out some of these methods given to Business Insider by a physician, Ehsan Ali.
- Pull your knees up to your chest to help compress your diaphragm
- Pull-on your tongue (weird, but okay)
- Slowly sip ice-cold water
You can also try to hold your breath for a few seconds and then breathe out, repeating until the hiccups have lessened.
A hot tip from our Editor, Steph is that if you have a teaspoon of vinegar, apparently your hiccups will disappear? This isn’t scientifically proven but if the Editor says it’s true, I’m obliged to agree.
Editor’s note: Yes, this is my favourite way to get rid of hiccups. No, Ky is not obliged to agree (officially). Toss back a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar; it’s yummier and will immediately cure your hiccups.
In the rare case that your hiccups are lasting more than 48 hours or are incredibly violent and painful, it’s probably best to go see the doctor.
Check out our last Ask Lifehacker: Why do we eat chocolate for Easter?