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Why Do We Get Hiccups?

Biology | 10-13 yrs | Interactive, Learning Pod

“Drink lots of water.” “Have sugar.” “Hold your breath.” “BOOO!!” These are a few of the things you might have tried when you have the hiccups. What exactly is this strange thing that happens to our body and can be quite irritating when it doesn’t go away.

What is a hiccup?

A hiccup is a sudden, involuntary forced intake of breath. It happens when your diaphragm starts acting up. Your diaphragm is a muscle that helps your lungs contract and expand. Sometimes it can get irritated and jerk involuntarily. The jerk makes you inhale suddenly and you hiccup because your voice-box cannot open quickly enough to let the air pass. Hiccups, which can occur individually or in bouts, commonly happen rhythmically and the interval between each hiccup is relatively constant.

Why do we hiccup?

Though most experts are not sure what causes hiccups and why we get them, they generally agree that they are triggered by minor stomach upsets. Sometimes, hiccups are said to have a psychological, rather than a physical cause, but nobody really knows. Some scientists think they might be a kind of malfunction in the nerves that control the breathing muscles.

Of what use are hiccups?

It is not known what good hiccups do to our bodies. But it is believed that it helps animals to swallow food that gets stuck in their throats. Animals which walk on all fours have to shift their food horizontally to get it from their mouths to their stomachs, which means it is easier for lumps of food to get stuck in their throats. Some scientists think that lumps lodged like this, might press down on a nerve in the throat, which triggers the hiccup.

For how long do hiccups last?

Hiccups can last for minutes, hours, days, even months. Majority of the times hiccups last for a few minutes and may resolve without any treatment. There are different classes of hiccups, depending on how long they go on for. While common hiccups are gone within an hour, persistent hiccups can go on for up to 48 hours, but are usually harmless. Acute hiccups go on for more than 48 hours. If hiccups go on for longer than two months, they are classed as intractable or diabolic hiccups, and are a sign of serious illness.

How can one get rid of hiccups?

Among the many recommended cures for hiccups, the most popular ones are eating something sweet or drinking water. Since hiccups are related to air blockage, the best cure is to get control of your breathing, either by holding your breath or taking deep breaths.

American Charles Osborne was entered in the Guinness World Records as the man with the longest attack of hiccups, an estimated 430 million hiccups later. Find out for how long he had these hiccups.

Looking for more biology articles and videos? Go to: Biology for Kids.