Just Relax! Here's How to Handle Hiccups Like a Champ

Learn more about what hiccups are and how to treat them.

Surprised woman covers mouth after a hiccup.

Hiccups can vary from comical to downright annoying, especially when they don’t stop. Here’s what you need to know about hiccups and how to treat them.

What are hiccups?

Although the hiccup sound often emits from your mouth, it actually starts lower in your body in the diaphragm muscle. This dome-shaped muscle sits between the stomach and lungs and serves an important role in the breathing process.

When you inhale, letting air into your lungs, the diaphragm pulls down. As you exhale to let the air flow out of the lungs, the diaphragm relaxes. However, an irritation to that muscle can cause it to spasm, resulting in a sudden pull of air into the throat and against the voice box. When this sensation happens, your vocal cords will close suddenly in protection, which creates the distinctive sound of a hiccup.

What causes hiccups?

What’s interesting about hiccups is that the irritation to the diaphragm actually occurs in the nerve that connects the brain to the dome-shaped muscle. So, it’s not always a physical reaction, as in something brushing up against the diaphragm and causing that irritation.

Instead, it can happen when you feel excited, nervous, or stressed. You might get hiccups if the temperature around you suddenly changes, or you swallow air while chewing gum or sucking on candy. Drinking alcohol or carbonated beverages can also cause hiccups. If you are put under anesthesia for a surgical procedure, you might experience hiccups when you wake up.

Related: How to Feel Better When Stress or Anxiety Hits

For some people, hiccups are an ongoing condition. Nerve damage or aggravation can lead to long-term hiccups, and you might experience them more often if you have a tumor, cyst, or goiter in the neck.

Certain disorders of the central nervous systems can also cause hiccups, such as meningitis and encephalitis, as can metabolic disorders like kidney failure or diabetes. Even taking certain drugs, such as steroids or epilepsy medications, can trigger hiccups as an ongoing problem.

Related: What Are the Effects of Stress on the Body?

Are hiccups dangerous?

Although hiccups might feel concerning, in most cases, they’re not anything to worry about. You might be able to relax your diaphragm and ease the hiccups from occurring, or you might need to just wait it out until the muscle relaxes on its own. They’re more annoying than worrisome, unless you’ve been experiencing them for more than a few hours.

If hiccups occur for hours at a time or multiple days, or they interfere with your ability to sleep, breathe, or eat normally, contact your healthcare provider. If your hiccups are accompanied by shortness of breath, stomach pain, vomiting, fever, or coughing up blood, it’s important to seek immediate medical help.

How to get rid of hiccups

If you’ve heard of those wild “cures” for hiccups, like eating a teaspoon of sugar or hanging upside down, most of these haven’t been proven and aren’t always great for your health. However, what does generally cause hiccups to subside is relaxing the diaphragm, which often happens naturally.

To treat hiccups, try breathing into a paper bag or holding your breath for a few seconds. Both of these actions cause carbon dioxide to build up in the lungs, which might encourage the diaphragm to relax.

Certain medications can also help with long-term hiccups, such as muscle relaxants and anti-spasmodic drugs. Treating problems in the esophagus and digestive tract might also help lessen persistent hiccups. If you deal with hiccups often, contact your healthcare provider to find out what treatment options might be available.

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