There’s nothing more frustrating than being stuck with a persistent case of the hiccups. So what’s really going on?
Hiccups happen when your diaphragm—the sheet of muscle surrounding your lungs that’s responsible for a little ol’ thing called respiration—contracts involuntarily. At the same time, your voice box contracts, too, causing that jump in your chest and producing that annoying hiccup sound.
“Hiccup bouts are usually caused by your stomach getting too inflated too quickly from overeating or even carbonated beverages,” says Niket Sonpal, M.D., assistant clinical professor of gastroenterology at Touro College of Medicine. “Other causes, such as excessive alcohol ingestion or emotional stress, can also precipitate hiccups.”
For the most part, hiccups are totally normal and not cause for concern. However, “persistent hiccups lasting more than 48 hours may necessitate a thorough medical evaluation,” says Sonpal. Similarly, if you find yourself wrestling with regular bouts of hiccups for a month or more, it might be time to see the doc. Although rare, hiccups like this could be caused by a serious cardiovascular, neurologic, or gastrointestinal disorder—not something you want to play around with.
As for scaring the hiccups away, there’s no medical evidence to support that actually works—so you can tell that annoying friend always trying to give you a fright to buzz off. Instead, Sonpal suggests sipping cold water, gargling with water, or holding your breath for a minute to help you shake them. “For a normal once in a while case, time will simply help them dissipate,” he says. Try not to stress and your hiccups will be on their way to a happy farewell.