Hiccups are usually minor and short lived, if a little embarrassing and
inconvenient. But they are often associated with good times -- a bit of
overacting perhaps or getting drunk.
Some of the remedies are amusing:
drinking from the wrong side of the glass, Having someone jump at you and
shout "boo", biting a lemon, and drinking pickle juice, to name a few.
According to a 16th century advice from England, "it is good to cast cold
water in the face of the person who has hiccups." There are also standbys
like holding your breath or breathing into a paper bag. Some of these cures
make more sense than others but they are all pretty much untested.
Sometimes, nothing works. Hiccups can go on for a long time. According to
the Guinness Book of World Records, an Iowa resident named Charles Osborne
had the hiccup for 68 years. But even a few days' worth can be distressing.
And if hiccups go on longer, they can cause serious problems including
difficulty in eating, dehydration, depression and loss of sleep (it is
possible to hiccup while you sleep).
Hiccups are emphatically no laughing matter when they are associated with
an underlying medical condition. Tumors can impinge on nerves in the chest
or abdomen. Hiccups are also a fairly common side effect of chemotherapy
used to treat cancer and can be a symptom of diseases that affect the
central nervous system such as strokes.
A hiccup begins if you are taking
a big breath of air much faster than normal. Your diaphragm contracts and
pulls down and your chest muscles go to work. A fraction of a second later
the narrow opening between the vocal cords snaps shut -- and you hear the
distinct hiccup sound. It is unclear whether the voice box is pulled shut or
if it closes because of negative pressures from expansion of the chest.
Neurologically, hiccups are an unthinkable reflex, like the kicking action
of your leg when a doctor taps your knee. Typically, a reflex begins with a
signal from the body to the spinal cord or brain that triggers a second
signal from the spinal cord or brain back to the body.
completely sure how the hiccup reflex is triggered and the cause may differ
in different people. But doctors say when nerves are stimulated, the message
is sent to the medulla oblongata, an area of the lower brain involved in
regulating breathing and other basic functions. Some researchers have
suggested that this region contains a "hiccup" center entirely separate from
any control of breathing. After passing through the medulla oblongata, the
"hiccup message" gets sent down to the diaphragm.
Many of the remedies for
mild hiccups may work by creating a stimulus that interrupts the signals
causing the reflex. For example, when you drink from the wrong side of the
glass, you may be exciting nerves in the back of the
mouth, nose and throat that aren't stimulated by normal drinking. Breathing
into a paper bag works in a different way. It increases the carbon dioxide
level in your blood and it has been shown that as carbon dioxide levels go
up, hiccups tend to recede.
Delivering a strong jolt to the nervous system
may also work. Another method is to exhale and then take a very deep breath
and hold it for 10 seconds. Then without exhaling you breath in again, pause
and then breathe in a third time. The doctors say that three consecutive
inhalations increase carbon dioxide levels in the blood and by immobilizing
Serious cases of hiccups can be treated with a number of
medications. Nerve blocks and surgery are options but only for the most