This Is Why You Hiccup

Yes, they're the worst—but they're not for nothing.

woman hiccuping against a light blue background - why do we hiccup

Why do we hiccup? Of all the involuntary bodily ticks, it's bar none the worst. A sneeze goes away in an instant. A bout of coughs can be painful, but at least there are myriad over-the-counter solutions. But the hiccups just go on and on, often painfully, and almost always come completely out of left field. Oh, and all the folk remedies—biting down on a lemon, say, or having someone "scare" them out of you—never seem to do a thing. What's the deal?

Basically, hiccups are involuntary contractions of the diaphragm, or the muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen. And, as the Mayo Clinic says, consuming large amounts of carbonated beverages, alcohol, and food can distend the stomach and irritate the esophagus, causing your diaphragm to contract, which, in turn, will cause you to hiccup.

Aside from what you consume, your emotional state can also trigger an episode of hiccups, according to the Mayo Clinic. When you're stressed or excited, your heart rate increases and your breathing becomes more erratic, causing stress in the diaphragm. If find that a bout of hiccups has come on from seemingly nowhere, your mood could be why.

Also, swallowing excess amounts of air (what you may refer to as "down the wrong pipe") can also irritate your diaphragm, causing it to irregularly open and close—or hiccup. More often than not, these extra bursts of air enter your diaphragm when you're either chewing gum or sucking on candies, according to the Mayo Clinic.

There are strange reasons, too

Among the most out-there causes of hiccups: sudden temperature fluctuation. While the mechanism linking temperature change to spasms of the diaphragm is not known, it's a thing that very much happens. According to the experts at Harvard, you can experience the phenomenon when stepping out of a heated building into a frigid air, or by drinking a hotter- or colder-than-average beverage.

If you find yourself suffering from excessive hiccuping (defined as hiccups that last for more than two days), though, that can be a sign of turmoil in the body—specifically, nerve damage. According to the Mayo Clinic, your eardrum could be irritated by something touching it, triggering a reaction of your diaphragm. Further, on a more serious note, your excessive hiccuping could be happening as a result of a tumor, cyst or goiter in your neck, which is triggering the response of your affected diaphragm.

How to get rid of them

Of course, as mentioned, some of the more classic methods of purging a bout of hiccups don't actually do a thing. But don't despair—there still exist some tried-and-true remedies. Here are a handful of the best doctor-approved methods:

  • According to gastroenterologist Anton Emmanuel, MD, giving your earlobes a thorough massage can relieve the pressure on your vagus nerve, which serves the diaphragm muscle.
  • Breathing into a brown paper bag can also relieve your hiccups, says Daniel Allan, MD. "Holding your breath or breathing into a paper bag increases carbon dioxide levels in the lungs and may relax the diaphragm, stopping the spasms and, thus, the hiccups," he said.
  • While it still has yet to be confirmed through peer-reviewed research, some doctors assert that sipping on cold water through a straw can work to control the diaphragm muscles that are causing your hiccups, according to the Mayo Clinic.
  • The Cleveland Clinic also notes that pulling on your tongue can ease the hiccups, as it stimulates and attempts to control the vagus nerve.

And if none of those do the trick, then consult our expert-backed guide on How to Get Rid of Hiccups to put a stop to this all-too-common nuisance once and for all.

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Ashley Moor
Ashley hails from Dayton, Ohio, and has more than six years of experience in print and digital media. Read more
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