Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Hiccups

“A little water is a sea to an ant”
-Afghan Proverb
What causes hiccups? Science is not really sure. The common explanation is a distention of the stomach caused by eating too much, drinking carbonated beverages, or swallowing too much air. But it could be low CO2 levels in the blood or a hair tickling your ear drum or a skull fracture, epilepsy, diabetes mellitus, myocardial infarction, tuberculosis, meningitis, bowel obstruction, and ulcerative colitis. Unlike other reflexes, hiccups serve no obvious or useful function.

When you hiccup, your diaphragm muscle convulses causing you to briefly gulp air. Within 35 milliseconds the glottis (the opening at the top of the air passage) slams shut, producing the characteristic "hic."

When my wife sneezes, we joke that she'll sneeze at least 7 times. Hiccups are the same. If you hiccup more than seven times you're in for the long haul and can expect at least 63 hiccups. The hiccup record is 57 years.

How can you stop hiccups? There are approaches - the first tries to bump the body out of hiccup mode, the other deals with low CO2.

Stuck in Hiccup Mode...
  • Scaring someone is a popular technique to "override" the hiccup reflex
  • Have someone tickle you
  • Wiggle your ears (if you can) to activate the nerve endings there
  • Put a teaspoon of sugar or lemon wedge on the back of your tongue (I'd worry about choking on the lemon)
  • Press a tongue depressor or a long cotton swab to the soft part of the roof of your mouth (or the back of the tongue) to trigger a gag reflex.
  • Soothe the throat nerves with a long, long drink of water - be careful NOT to gulp any air.
  • Discovery Health suggests taking a tablet or two of an antacid with magnesium.
Low CO2 ...
  • Hold your breath. Count to some high number while doing it to say calm.
  • Dr. Oz advocates plugging your nose and jumping on one foot (???!!!)
  • Repeatedly breathe into a paper bag to suck back in carbon dioxide.
  • Close your mouth, pinch your nose and try hard to exhale.
Bottom Line
If these don't work you should probably just wait it out, as most cases fix themselves.  However, if the hiccups last for a long time (over three hours), occur with abdominal pain, interfere with your sleep or eating, or you start spitting up blood, you should definitely see a doctor.

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