Why Do Hiccups Happen?

Universal and annoying, everyone knows what hiccups feel like.

Scientifically, it’s the involuntary contraction of the diaphragm and a closure of the vocal cords – causing the classic ‘hic’ sound we associate with hiccups. In layman’s terms, the muscle just beneath your lungs tenses and relaxes quickly, pushing air up against your voicebox.

Why do you get hiccups?

Though hiccups are a reflex, meaning something our body does that we can’t control, unlike sneezing and coughing, which help clear our airways, hiccups seem to have no useful purpose whatsoever. Once started, hiccups have a regular rhythm, and usually go away on their own. But on occasion, intervention is needed to get rid of them.

The causes of hiccups are broad and can be triggered by anything, ranging from something a person does, to a long-time habit, to something that is a little more serious, such as nerve damage. Regardless of what starts hiccups up, they are equally prevalent in men and women, and tend to hit us in the evenings more often than any other time of day.

The most common triggers for short term hiccups – those that last less than 48 hours – are:

  • Accidentally swallowing air while chewing your food or gum
  • Consuming too many carbonated or alcoholic beverages
  • Sudden temperature changes in the surrounding environment and
  • Overeating

More serious causes can range from irritation on the eardrum – something as simple as your hair getting into your ear – to a sore throat or laryngitis, to a cyst or goiter in your neck, to a gastroesophageal reflux. These would be things to see your doctor about and have monitored. In extreme cases, the doctor will prescribe medication, or refer you to an X-ray to help determine the course of action needed to get the persistent hiccups to stop.


Tricks to get rid of hiccups

Putting a stop to non-persistent hiccups is easy to do at home. Some of the more common remedies include:

  • Sipping cool or iced water
  • Blocking off airflow, by holding your breath in, holding your nose, or plugging up your ears
  • Taking a spoonful of sugar (just like Mary Poppins recommends!)
  • Sucking on a lemon, or tasting some vinegar on your tongue
  • Compressing the chest by drawing your knees up to it, or bending over when you’re sitting down

Some people also swear that getting a fright is enough to scare the hiccups away – but you may need to test that one out on your own.