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The Science Behind Hiccups

Team StoryWeavers|September 23, 2021, 18:34 IST| 2

Your teacher hands out the test and reminds everyone that there is to be no talking and no noise. The room is silent as everyone focuses on doing their best. You answer the first question with no problem, and you know the second answer as well. This test is going great…until, ‘hic’.

Oh no! You wait a few moments, hoping that the first hiccup was just a fluke, but then – ‘hic’, ‘hic’, ‘hic’. You have a case of the hiccups, and your classmates can’t help but giggle. Hiccups can be funny, but when you’re in a quiet room, they can be irritating, especially if you can’t make them stop!

But have you ever wondered where these funny noises come from? And what exactly happens to our body that creates this strange reaction which can be quite irritating when it doesn’t go away?

All these are really great questions. We all get hiccups, but most of us don’t think much about them.

So, let’s learn why hiccups happen and discover some ways to get rid of them.

What Is A Hiccup?

Credit: Giphy

Credit: Giphy

A hiccup is a sudden, involuntary forced intake of breath. The part to blame is your diaphragm (pronounced: DIE-uh-fram). This is a dome-shaped muscle just under your lungs, and all hiccups start here. The diaphragm is very important, even though you don’t normally know you are using it. This makes it an involuntary muscle – one that works without your will and attention.

The diaphragm almost always works perfectly. When you inhale, it pulls down to make the lungs bigger. This helps in pulling air into the lungs. When you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and makes the lungs contract. This releases the air from the lungs back out through the nose and mouth. 

But sometimes the diaphragm becomes irritated. When this happens, it pulls down in a jerky way. This makes you suck air into your throat suddenly. When the rushing air  hits your voice box, your vocal cords close suddenly causing a sudden “hiccup” sound!

Why Do We Hiccup?

Why we hiccup is a very good question, and the answer is we don’t really know! 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. They sometimes start after you have been eating or drinking too quickly, and spicy foods and fizzy drinks are particularly to blame. 

Sometimes, hiccups are said to have a psychological, rather than a physical cause.  When you are anxious or under stress, it can cause persistent hiccups. Some scientists think they might be a type of malfunction in the nerves that control the breathing muscles.

What Use Are Hiccups?

Hiccups seem to serve no obvious purpose (or we don’t know it yet). It is possible they did something in our distant evolutionary relatives and never left us. Tadpoles have a hiccup reflex which helps keep their lungs safe while they transition from breathing underwater. So our hiccup reflex might be from our amphibian ancestors. 

Credit: Giphy

Credit: Giphy

We all start our lives inside the liquid of our mother’s womb. So another theory is that hiccups stop us from breathing in the womb, or might be a way to train breathing muscles after birth. 

The short answer is that while we know what hiccups are, we don’t really know why they happen.

For How Long Do Hiccups Last?

Charles Osborn began to hiccup in 1922 after a pig fell on top of him. He wasn’t cured until 68 years later and is now listed by Guinness as the world record holder for the longest attack of hiccups. Meanwhile, Jennifer Mee from Florida, US may hold the record for the most frequent hiccups, 50 times per minute for more than four weeks! 

But before you get scared of hiccups, let us tell you the good news that you don’t need to worry about them. Most of the time, hiccups last for a few minutes and may go away 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.

How Can You Get Rid of Hiccups?

Credit: Giphy

Credit: Giphy

“Drink lots of water.” 

“Have sugar.” 

“Hold your breath.” 

Or maybe the most famous treatment — having someone jump out and scare you when you’re not expecting it — helps you wave goodbye to your hiccups. Boo! Well, these are a few of the things you might have tried when you have the hiccups. But actually, most hiccups go away on their own so it’s hard to say if these tricks really work. All we have to rely on is anecdotal evidence – which means to rely on the word of mouth of others. This also means that while some of these tricks might work for some of us, they might not work for all!

Some of these solutions could just be a distraction, but they might also help reset the nerves that cause the hiccups. Distraction or not, there is no harm to try these fun remedies in order to stop those irritating hiccups. 

Tell us in the comment section which solution makes your hiccups go away. 

Did you enjoy reading this? Read similar stories at The Learning Tree 

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About the Author

Raza has been writing since 2008, be it fiction, poetry, or articles on science, politics, and history. He believes that words can change the world, and he uses them to inspire and empower people through his writing. When he is not working, he is watching nature documentaries or playing with his cats.

Leave a Comment



Uday Raj Khatri

November 13, 2020

My mother usually says someone must be remembering you and says you should say the names of people that you know!! ??


November 6, 2020

Holding my breath helps drive hiccups away !


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