Hiccups are annoying and uncomfortable, everyone has experienced them, although sometimes they last for a short period, on other occasions, they last longer.
According to Medical News Today, hiccups which are medically termed as ‘singultus’, often come after eating or drinking too much or too quickly. The stomach, which is directly below the diaphragm, becomes bloated. This irritates the diaphragm and causes it to contract, as it does when we breathe in.
Dr Edem Danyo, a health practitioner, says that hiccups occur when there is a contraction of the diaphragm involuntary. The diaphragm is a muscle that helps you breathe. It sits under your lungs and splits your chest cavity from your abdomen.
He says that what triggers hiccups is eating heavy meals or eating quickly, taking carbonated drinks, excessive alcohol intake, being exposed to quick changes in temperature, and excitement and emotional stress.
Not all these triggers result in hiccups that will last less than 48 hours. But when they last more than 48 hours, they may be a result of tumours in the neck, gastric reflux, meningitis, stroke, anaesthesia, and drugs such as steroids. If they exceed 48 hours, see the doctor, Dr Danyo says.
Medical experts emphasise that there are two types of hiccups. The ones that stay on for more than two days are referred to as persistent hiccups, whilst the ones that linger for more than a month are known as intractable hiccups. These are known to be part of a larger, underlying medical problem and might not go away until that issue is corrected. Some of these larger, underlying conditions include; cancer and tumours, stroke, disorders of the stomach or oesophagus, pleuritis (inflammation of the lining of the lung), uraemia (abnormally high levels of waste products in the blood), pneumonia, bowel diseases, among others.
“Practice measured breathing, breathe in from zero to five and breathe out while counting, from zero to five. You can do this as much as necessary, the effect of this is that it distracts the breathing cycle,” Dr Danyo says.
He says to breathe into a paper bag, place the paper bag on your nose and mouth, and breathe, in and out. This increases the level of carbon dioxide in the blood.
“Increased carbon dioxide levels in the lungs may relax the diaphragm, stopping the spasms and, thus, the hiccups,” he says.
Dr Danyo says that another technique that can be effective is the use of the Valsalva manoeuvre, which is a breathing method that may slow your heart when it’s beating too fast. With this method, you exhale while you pinch your nose, keep your mouth closed, and be as if you’re having a bowel movement. You can do this for 10 to 15 seconds.
Dr Danyo explains that you can also drink cold or ice water, when you do it slowly, it fuels the vagus nerve (responsible for the regulation of internal organ functions, such as digestion, heart rate, and respiratory rate). Cold water stops the irritation produced in the diaphragm and it resumes its normal movement.
He also advises sucking on ice cubes, keeping about one ice cube in your mouth, and sucking it slowly until it melts. This stimulates the vagus nerve as well.
You can also distract yourself with something engaging, either playing puzzles, video games, or doing anything to divert yourself from thinking about the hiccups as a remedy,” he says.
Dr Danyo says that prevention is based on lifestyle changes, eating smaller amounts of food per serving, avoiding spicy foods, and avoiding excessive alcohol intake and carbonated drinks.
According to Healthline, there’s no proven method for preventing hiccups. However, if you experience hiccups frequently, you can try to reduce your exposure to known triggers. Hiccups have a wide range of possible triggers, from drinking soda and eating certain foods to medication use and underlying conditions. A number of possible treatments are also available.
In rare instances, hiccups can last longer than 48 hours. If your hiccups last longer than 48 hours, don’t respond to treatment, or you aren’t sure what’s causing them, see a doctor for a diagnosis.
Also, see a doctor or seek emergency help if you’re having numbness and coordination issues alongside your persistent hiccups. These may be symptoms of a stroke, Healthline suggests.