Why Do We Hiccup?

hiccup woman
Without a doubt we can say that nobody remembers their first hiccup, well, that is because it happened before you were born. ( We are not even kidding, it’s actually really common for fetuses to have hiccups. )

Before we get into why we hiccup, let’s break down what exactly this phenomenon is.

The medical term for a hiccup is “Singultus”. They are really common and can affect anyone regardless of age. All of us are going to experience at least one hiccup at some point in our life, so do dogs, cats, horses, and rats.

The whole process is really simple.  It’s basically just your body taking in a large breath of air. Essentially it’s an involuntary contraction of the muscles that help us breathe, followed by a sudden closure of your vocal folds. This combination is what produces that strange “hic” sound.

The hiccup is a result of the diaphragm ( a sheet of muscle that is responsible for our breathing ) becoming irritated. This irritation can be the result of a couple of different things.  In most of the situations eating or drinking too much too quickly can cause your stomach ( which is right below your diaphragm ) to become distended or bloated to a point that it disturbs those muscles so they contract. That is why carbonated drinks are notorious for causing hiccups because the carbonation in them expands your stomach.

Sometimes though, it’s not that simple.

From time to time hiccups can be caused by disturbances in the nerve pathway that connects from your brain to your diaphragm, which explains why things like rapid temperature changes or certain emotional states can trigger them.

Usually, episodes of hiccups last just a few moments, however, they can last longer … much longer.

The term diabolic hiccup is used for hiccups which last for 2 months or longer. They are usually a sign of serious illness, stroke, tumors, infections, multiple sclerosis and problems with the spinal cord or any of the structures surrounding your diaphragm.

What’s crazy is that even though they’re such a common thing nobody’s really sure why we actually get hiccups.

As far as we know, they have no known function in the body, so, a lot of scientists sum it up to a malfunction in the nerves that are responsible for our breathing.

Another study looks at babies in the womb. At two months ultrasound can pick up a baby hiccupping. This study believes that this process is a way to prepare the baby’s respiratory muscles for breathing after birth. According to that study, hiccups are a workout for the diaphragm.

The most popular theory is that they are a product of evolution and in some point, they actually did serve a purpose.  The idea is that, because humans walk upright we have gravity to help us swallow food, but our four-legged ancestors didn’t have that. So, food would often get stuck in their throats. Some researchers theorize that a lump of food in your throat could have been pressed down on a nerve, triggering a hiccup and then a sharp intake of air would create a vacuum strong enough to push the food into the stomach.


Ok, so, how do you get rid of hiccups then?

It turns out there are tons of home remedies out there from drinking water while standing on your head to having people scare the living daylights out of you. Still, the ones that really work are the ones that interrupt your breathing.  So, even though drinking water does usually help, it doesn’t matter how you drink it. Holding your breath can also help because it is the most direct way of controlling your breathing muscles. Another way to do it is to distract your Vagus nerve ( the nerve responsible for your breathing and heartbeat ) from constantly zapping your diaphragm. You can do that with something like a teaspoon of sugar. The dry granules could provide the needed stimulus for that nerve to focus on your throat instead.

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