What exactly are Hiccups?

What exactly are Hiccups?

What are Hiccups?

Everyone has hiccups some time in life; no one is safe from it. And it sometimes ruins perfectly good moments or make awkward silences worse than they are, because of the fact that hiccups are not controllable/involuntary.

What exactly are Hiccups?

So what exactly are hiccups? In medical terms, it’s called ‘synchronous diaphragmatic flutter’ or ‘singultus’ but you don’t need to know that.

To explain hiccups, first understand basic breathing. During breathing, we inhale air with mouth and nose, to lungs through a pathway to lungs. Diaphragm is a sheet of muscle between the chest and abdomen which supports this flow of air. It moves down when we intake air to ‘allow’ the air into lungs. It moves up when we exhale to make the air flow out of the lungs. Don’t worry if you don’t get it the first time. Also take a look at this diagram which will help you get a better picture of breathing.

Diagram of Diaphragm

So, what does this have to do with hiccups? Well, you see, the diaphragm has some nerves called ‘phrenic nerves’ which is like the ‘sense of touch’ for the diaphragm. Hiccups occur when these phrenic nerves are irritated, which can be due to many causes. This ‘sudden action’ or ‘spasm’ – the appropriate word, causes a quick breath during which the glottis shuts down, cutting off the normal breathing event. This unexpected closure of glottis is the cause of the hiccup sound.

What Causes Hiccups?

So, about these phrenic nerves, what irritates it? Many factors can be a cause, for example, eating too much makes the stomach enlarged which may disturb the diaphragm.

Some irritants are,

  • Full stomach and eating food too quickly
  • Spicy foods
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Swallowing too much air
  • Excitement, surprise etc.
  • Sudden change in temperature
  • Carbonated drinks

As you’ve probably noticed, hiccups are not long-lasting. They may last from a few minutes to at most, a few hours. Any more may be an indication of a serious medical problem, especially if hiccups exceed 48 hours/2 days. This may lead to a serious problem, but they’re rare.

Also, each person has a fixed pattern of hiccups, in which they hiccup after regular intervals; not sooner, not later.

You may think hiccups may be used for something. Well, there still isn’t a defined function of hiccups, at least as far as scientists know. According to them, hiccups are useless with no body functions. So, the only use of hiccups we know so far is making people look stupid. There are 3 classifications of hiccups based on the duration of hiccups:

  • Common Hiccups -> last a few hours at most, but are usually gone within a few minutes.
  • Persistent Hiccups-> last up to 2 days.
  • Acute Hiccups-> last more than 2 days. Indicates other medical problems

How to get rid of Hiccups?

So, how do you get rid of hiccups? There are many known ways but none is better than the other. Rather it depends on the person, situation etc. Sometimes holding breath works for some people, at other times, it won’t. Drinking water quickly works most times, but sometimes, it doesn’t.

A very interesting method is mental distraction. Has this ever happened to you that you went to someone to show them that you’re suffering from hiccups, then he waits to see but nothing happens. The hiccups disappeared! How!? Actually, scientists don’t know themselves yet. Other situations like conversations, laughter etc. also automatically fixes hiccups without you even knowing.

Also, being frightened also scares away hiccups at times. Some commonly known solutions are,

  • Hold your breath for a while
  • Eat a spoonful of sugar
  • Breath into a paper bag
  • Drink cold water slowly
  • Bite on a lemon
  • Use smelling salts

Fun Fact

The longest hiccups known belong to Charles Osbourne who won the Guinness World Record for longest hiccups. He had hiccups for 68 years straight from 1922 to 1990; basically his whole life.


Well, I hope you enjoyed the article and received some enlightenment on what a hiccup actually is. That’s a +1 to your general knowledge. We are always looking for good frequently asked questions to answers. So, if you have a suggestion what we should write on next, please leave a comment!





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