Hiccups are described as repetitive, uncontrollable contractions of the diaphragm muscle. The diaphragm is located beneath the lungs which marks the boundary between the chest and abdomen and controls the breathing. Once the diaphragm contracts, the lungs take up more oxygen. Once it relaxes, the lungs release carbon dioxide.
If the diaphragm contracts out of normal rhythm, it results to hiccups. Every spasm of the diaphragm causes the larynx and vocal cords to abruptly close. This results to a sudden rush of air into the lungs. The body responds with a chirp or gasp, producing the characteristic sound of hiccups.
How hiccups start
There is no way to foresee when hiccups will occur. With every spasm, there is typically a minimal narrowing of the chest or throat prior to the production of the characteristic hiccup sound.
In most episodes of hiccups, they start and end suddenly for no evident reason. The episodes essentially last for only a few minutes. Episodes that last longer than 48 hours are considered as persistent. If the hiccups persists longer than 2 months, they are categorized as stubborn or hard to manage.
Various causes have already been identified. Nevertheless, there is no definitive list of these triggers. Remember that hiccups often come and go for no evident reason. The likely causes of brief hiccups include the following:
- Eating spicy foods
- Drinking carbonated beverages such as sodas
- Drinking alcoholic beverages
- Eating very cold or hot foods
- Emotional stress or excitement
- Abrupt change in the air temperature
- Swallowing air while chewing on gum
- Swallowing too much air
If they last longer than 48 hours, they are categorized by the form of irritant that triggered the episode.
Most of the persistent cases are triggered by irritation or injury to either the vagus or phrenic nerve. Both nerves control the movement of the diaphragm. Take note that these nerves can be affected by:
- Irritation of the throat or soreness
- Irritation of the eardrum due to a foreign object
- Gastroesophageal reflux
- Esophageal cyst or tumor
What are the risk factors?
Hiccups can manifest at any age and can occur while a fetus is still within the womb. Nevertheless, there are various factors that increases the likelihood for experiencing the episodes such as the following:
- Previous surgery particularly in the abdomen
- Has experienced intense emotional or mental response that ranges from excitement to anxiety
- Received general anesthesia
Most episodes are not considered as an issue for concern. Nevertheless, an extended episode can cause discomfort and disrupt daily life. A doctor should be consulted if the hiccups lasts longer than 2 days. The doctor can determine the severity in relation to his/her overall health and other conditions.