Hiccups can be really annoying.
In fact, hiccups can be more than annoying.
It’s not uncommon for hiccups to cause muscular pain and even nausea. So, what can you do when a bout comes on? Do you need to follow the myths and have someone give you a fright?! Is there a more tried and tested way to rid yourself? Is the hiccup pressure point anything more than a myth?
We’ve looked at the facts – and can hopefully offer some help!
What are hiccups?
The word ‘hiccup’ comes from the noise that’s made in your mouth and throat when there’s a sudden contraction of your diaphragm.
You’ll find that definition all over the place – from the NHS to pharmacy websites – but what does it actually mean?
Well, your diaphragm is the main part of muscle that you use in the breathing process. Although it’s our lungs that fill with air, we don’t control our lungs directly – instead, by breathing in, we cause the diaphragm to tighten and move down in our torso.
When the diaphragm contracts and moves down the body like this, the pressure inside our lungs decreases and they expand – opening up. To bring the pressure back to normal, the lungs suck air in through our nose and mouth. As we relax our diaphragm it moves back up, squeezing that air back out of our lungs.
Fortunately, for most people this breathing process is done unconsciously and rhythmically – meaning it doesn’t interrupt anything else we’re doing; that is, until our diaphragm twitches or momentarily tightens outside of the normal rhythm. As the normal air flow is interrupted for a split second, the ‘glottis’ (an opening in our vocal cords) responds to this pressure change by closing for another fraction of a second.
And there you go! Hiccup.
So, that explains what happens – but what causes it? And importantly – how can you get rid of them?!
What causes hiccups?
I’m sorry to say that there’s no conclusive proof that any one thing causes hiccups. In fact, doctors suggest that there are a vast range of conditions that can end up with a person having hiccups, including:
- Drinking alcohol, fizzy drinks or hot drinks
- Quick changes in the air temperature
- Having a full or bloated stomach
- Eating quickly or excessively
- Having a fright or experiencing excitement
There are certain non-serious medical conditions that seem to have an impact on hiccups too – not least the common cold. In fact, anything that might have an impact on your normal breathing rhythm might bring hiccups on – coughing, sneezing or even vomiting.
Could hiccups be a sign of serious illness?
In some cases, hiccups may be the indication that there’s something more serious happening in your body. Try not to worry though – in the overwhelming number of cases, hiccups are nothing more than a reaction to a twitch in your diaphragm and happen for virtually everyone in the world.
Having hiccups for a prolonged period of time (or reoccurring frequently in a period of time) would normally be the first indication that it’s worth having them checked out by a medical professional.
And by long time – we mean for 2-3 days or moving into weeks. There’s no need to worry if you haven’t been able to shake them off after a few hours!
There are a variety of conditions that can cause hiccups to occur like this – from breathing issues like Asthma, to more serious issues related to the heart of nervous system. But to reiterate, most hiccups are totally harmless.
Getting rid of hiccups – the myths
When you’ve got hiccups there’s always someone close by to let you know about some kind of weird or wonderful method of getting rid of them – but not all cures for hiccups are so effective!
Even if they’re suggested – it’s worth avoid the following:
- Drinking or sipping fizzy, hot or alcoholic drinks
- Having a cigarette
- Eating something cold, followed by something hot
- Having something spicy to eat
- Eating something very quickly
- Chewing gum
Some kind soul might even suggest (or just act upon) the idea that giving you a fright will help rid you of hiccups – and while it might take your mind off it for a short period of time, there’s no medical evidence that it works – although the theory probably relates to drawing a sharp intake of air and disrupting the spasm in the diaphragm.
Getting rid of hiccups – what’s effective?
Hiccups are different for everyone – and because there’s no solid facts around what brings them on for most people, there’s also no solid research around how you can reliably get rid of them.
That said, there are a few things that you can do, including:
- Breathing into a paper bag
- Sitting with your knees up to your chest and leaning forward
- Sipping cold water
- Swallowing a small amount of granulated sugar
- Tasting something acidic – like lemon juice or vinegar
- Holding your breath for a short time
These are worth trying – but there could be another option…
Hiccups pressure points
Pressure points are interesting – while there’s little medical evidence to formalise their effectiveness – there are many doctors who acknowledge their use – including alternative therapies that make use of them – such as reflexology and acupuncture.
Try these techniques next time you have hiccups and see if they work for you:
Your philtrum is the little groove above your top lip running between the nose and the mouth. Press in the centre of this area gently compressing it against your top lip for 20 seconds.
Clench your fist on either arm and you’ll hopefully be able to see tightened tendons in your inside wrist. Move your thumb down about 1-2 inches (3-6 cms) and press between those tendons for around 30 seconds.
Your breastbone is right in the middle of your chest, press gentle just underneath with one finger and hold that slight pressure for around 30 seconds.
Move down a couple of inches (3-6 cms) from your belly button and press with 2 or 3 fingers, as if you’re pressing toward your back. Hold this pressure for around 20-30 seconds.
The pressure points should activate certain muscle groups that, in our deeply interconnected body, have an impact on the muscles connected to the diaphragm. It might sound difficult to believe – but given that pressure on muscle or nerves in our leg can lead to headaches – it’s not surprising that our body is more deeply connected that you might first think!
Give these techniques a try – and remember, if you’re worried about hiccups hanging around for a long time, go and see your doctor for peace of mind.