By Dr Mercola
Have you ever had an embarrassing bout of hiccups at a specific time in your life? We’ve all experienced the struggle with trying to keep your hiccups as quiet as possible, and at the same time hoping that it would end soon.
Believe it or not, the longest bout of hiccups actually lasted 68 years. This happened to Charles Osborne in 1922 when he was lifting a hog for slaughter and persisted until 1990.1
The length of hiccups actually varies depending on different factors. The average amount of hiccups a person has is around 65 times.
What Are Hiccups?
Hiccups are actually caused by the involuntary spasms of the diaphragm. The diaphragm tightens and helps in the removal of excess air in the stomach. There is no clear explanation on why these occur. But there have been various theories, with some even going as far back as the pre-evolutionary world.
One study explains that there is a link between the existence of hiccups with that of the tadpole’s breathing patterns. William Whitelaw explains that tadpoles have the ability to breathe underwater and breathe on land.
This mechanism greatly resembles that of a hiccup, wherein the tadpole fills its mouth with water and forces the air out of the gills.
When a hiccup occurs, the action is triggered by the brain stem, which apparently still sends out signals for actions that have been rendered useless. One of these is the occurrence of hiccups and the signal the brain sends out to the diaphragm to expel water to the gills.2
There are three classifications which vary on the length and duration of hiccups. According to the British Medical Journal (BMJ), hiccups are divided into two categories: benign hiccups and persistent intractable hiccups.
Benign hiccups are said to last from a few seconds to an hour, while persistent intractable hiccups last up to several years.3
Palliative Care Medicines Information, on the other hand, divides hiccups into three categories: acute, persistent and intractable hiccups. Acute hiccups are the hiccups that last up to 48 hours, persistent hiccups last for over 48 hours and intractable hiccups last for more than a month.4
Common Causes of Hiccups
Hiccups can happen to an individual because of various factors. Some of the leading causes of hiccups include:
Overeating or Eating Too Fast
This may cause hiccups because eating too fast gives you an opening for overeating, since you’re not giving your body enough time to gauge your stomach’s content. Eating too fast also allows you to swallow more air than normal.5
Drinking Alcoholic Beverages
Eating Spicy Food
Eating spicy food can also cause hiccups because of the release of cryptocapsin, capsaicin, capsicidin and other chemicals. These irritate the esophagus and the stomach and sometimes even travel to the lungs. Hiccups are your body’s way of expelling the chemical from your lungs.7
Stress and anxiety can also cause hiccups because they trigger a rapid change in a person’s breathing pattern and speed. This may cause hiccups because of the pressure it applies on the diaphragm.8
Drinking Carbonated Drinks
Soda and other carbonated drinks allow excessive carbon dioxide (CO2) to enter your stomach. You then get hiccups to expel the excess CO2 in moderation.
Take note that there are other factors that can hint on a more serious underlying cause. Persistent hiccups may be caused by the hormonal imbalance if you’re pregnant, by nerve irritation when the nerves in the diaphragm are irritated, by brain tumors, or cancer if the tumor is pressing down on the diaphragm.9
Some hiccup ‘cures’ include:
- Hold your breath
- Take deep breaths
- Breathe into a paper bag
- Eat a bit of fresh ginger
- Suck on a lemon
- Have a hot water and honey drink
- Drink a glass of water slowly (add a few drops of apple cider vinegar, or drink coconut water or aloe vera juice once a day, 30 min before meals)
- Sit down and lean forward over your knees
- Ask someone to give you a fright.
Ways to Get Rid of Mild Hiccups
There are countless ways to get rid of hiccups. Some people might say that holding your breath can make it stop, while others attest that gargling ice water will do the trick.
These things may work for other people and actually fail for others. But don’t be disappointed because there are more ways to help you eliminate hiccups, such as these simple tricks:
Breathe into a paper bag.
It is said that breathing into a paper bag helps in stopping hiccups because the increase in carbon dioxide that enters the lungs allows the diaphragm to contract thus allowing breathing to come back to normal. This works similarly when you hold your breath.10
Drinking water makes you employ a kind of rhythmic movement along your esophagus which in turn helps your body override the spasms of the diaphragm. It is also said that drinking cold water soothes the irritated part of the diaphragm and allows breathing to take on its normal pace.11
You can also try drinking water while blocking both ears. This will stimulate the nerve endings, which in turn stimulates the vagus nerve.12
Eat a spoonful of peanut butter.
The process of trying to swallow peanut butter interrupts the breathing pattern and the rhythm of the hiccups. I do recommend using raw almond butter instead.13
Eat a lemon wedge with bitter angostura.
This is the cure that bartenders say really works for their customers. The person with the hiccups is asked to eat a lemon wedge (without the pit) which was doused with bitter angostura. This apparently worked for 14 out of 16 individuals tested.14
Press on the palm of your hand with your thumb.
It is said that the pressure in the middle of your hand distracts your body from the focus it has on your hiccups.15
Other suggestions are acupuncture, hypnosis and using smelling salts. If you suffer from persistent or intractable hiccups that do not go away even with these natural remedies, seek a physician to help you determine what’s causing this condition, and how it can be resolved.
How Can You Prevent Hiccups?
While the probability of getting hiccups certainly cannot be removed entirely from your life, there are certain points that should be remembered to avoid the usual bouts of hiccups. Keep these following pointers in mind:
- Eat slowly and chew your food well
- Avoid talking while eating
- Avoid drinking alcohol or any food that may trigger acid reflux
- Avoid smoking cigarettes
Connie’s comments: To my son’s friend: Add Vit C , magnesium , calcium and zinc powder in your glass of water. Drink coconut water and aloe vera juice. Avoid junk food. Do eat avocado, walnut and fish. Avoid environmental toxins in the house from dust to molds.
Some of the diseases, conditions and drugs that may prompt frequent or prolonged attacks of hiccups include:
- Oesophagitis (inflammation of the oesophagus)
- An overactive thyroid gland
- Pleurisy (inflammation of the membrane surrounding the lungs)
- Pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs)
- Kidney disease
- Brain damage, such as stroke or tumour, that affects the area of the brain which controls the diaphragm
- Abdominal surgery
- Chest surgery
- Certain epilepsy medications
- Nicotine gum
Severe Hiccups underlying health issues
Nerve damage or irritation
The most common cause of long-term hiccups is damage to or irritation of the vagus nerves or phrenic nerves, which serve the diaphragm muscle.Factors that may cause damage or irritation to these nerves include:
- A hair or something else in your ear touching your eardrum
- A tumor, cyst or goiter in your neck
- Gastroesophageal reflux
- Sore throat or laryngitis
Central nervous system disorders
A tumor or infection in your central nervous system or damage to your central nervous system as a result of trauma can disrupt your body’s normal control of the hiccup reflex. Examples include:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Traumatic brain injury
Metabolic disorders and drugs
Long-term hiccups can be triggered by:
- Electrolyte imbalance
- Kidney failure
Let’s take a look at the nine best herbs for respiratory health!
Native to Australia, eucalyptus isn’t just for Koala bears! Aborigines, Germans, and Americans have all used the refreshing aroma of eucalyptus to promote respiratory health and soothe throat irritation. Eucalyptus is a common ingredient in cough lozenges and syrups and its effectiveness is due to a compound called cineole. Cineole has numerous benefits — it’s an expectorant, can ease a cough, fights congestion, and soothes irritated sinus passages. As an added bonus, because eucalyptus contains antioxidants, it supports the immune system during a cold or other illness.
Lungwort is a flowering rhizomatous that actually resembles lung tissue in appearance. However, this natural remedy doesn’t just look the part. As early as the 1600’s, lungwort has been used to promote lung and respiratory health and clear congestion. Lungwort also contains compounds that are powerfully effective against harmful organisms that affect respiratory health.
Although oregano contains the vitamins and nutrients required by the immune system, its primary benefits are owed to its carvacrol and rosmarinic acid content. Both compounds are natural decongestants and histamine reducers that have direct, positive benefits on the respiratory tract and nasal passage airflow. Oregano has so many health benefits that a bottle of organic oregano oil should be in everyone’s medicine cabinet. I recommend you check out this article to learn all the uses for organic oregano oil.
4. Plantain Leaf
The plantain leaf has been used for hundreds of years to ease cough and soothe irritated mucous membranes. Clinical trials have found it favorable against cough, cold, and lung irritation. Plantain leaf has an added bonus in that it may help relieve a dry cough by spawning mucus production in the lungs. Good stuff!
The Greeks, Romans, Chinese, and even Indian Ayurvedic medicine have cited elecampane for respiratory support and, since the 1800’s, lozenges and cough drops have been produced from elecampane root. The reason? Elecampane has a relaxing effect on smooth tracheal muscles. There are two active compounds in elecampane root that provide the beneficial effect — inulin, which soothes bronchial passage, and alantolactone, an expectorant with antitussive action.
Did you know that horses given lobelia are able to breath more deeply? Its benefits are not limited to equestrians. Lobelia, by some accounts, is thought to be one of the most valuable herbal remedies in existence. Lobelia contains an alkaloid known as lobeline, which thins mucus, breaks up congestion. Additionally, lobelia stimulates the adrenal glands to release epinephrine, in effect, this relaxes the airways and allows for easier breathing. Also, because lobelia helps to relax smooth muscles, it is included in many cough and cold remedies. Lobelia should be part of everyone’s respiratory support protocol!
Chaparral, a plant native to the southwest, has been appreciated by the Native Americans for lung detoxification and respiratory support. Chaparral contains powerful antioxidants that resist irritation and NDGA which is known to fight histamine response. Chaparral is also an herb that fights harmful organisms. The benefits of chaparral are most available in a tincture extraction but chaparral tea may support respiratory problems by encouraging an expectorant action to clear airways of mucus.
Peppermint, and peppermint oil, contains menthol — a soothing ingredient known to relax the smooth muscles of the respiratory tract and promote free breathing. Paired with the antihistamine effect of peppermint, menthol is a fantastic decongestant. Many people use therapeutic chest balms and other inhalants that contain menthol to help break up congestion. Additionally, peppermint is an antioxidant and fights harmful organisms.
9. Osha Root
Osha is an herb native to the Rocky Mountain area and has historically been used by the Native Americans for respiratory support. The roots of the plant contain camphor and other compounds which make it one of the best lung-support herbs in America. One of the main benefits of osha root is that it helps increase circulation to the lungs, which makes it easier to take deep breaths. Also… when seasonal sensitivities flare up your sinuses, osha root, which is not an actual antihistamine, does produce a similar effect and may be help calm respiratory irritation!