Hiccups explained – and how to get rid of them

A hiccup is a short and involuntary contraction of the diaphragm muscle. When this muscle contracts, the opening between the vocal chords snaps shut to stop the inflow of air. This sudden closing causes the hiccup sound.

This contraction is caused by an irritation of the nerves that extend between the neck and the chest.

According to The Conversation, the medical term for hiccups is singultus. This derives from the Latin word singult which means “to catch ones breath while sobbing”.

There are a number of potential causes for this contraction:

  • chewing gum
  • swallowing air
  • smoking
  • eating or drinking too much or too fast
  • anxiety or over-excitement
  • some medications that cause acid reflux as a side-effect
  • damage to the phrenic or vagus nerve
  • swelling or infection of the liver
  • eating chillis
  • alcohol
  • noxious fumes.

Hiccups can occur at any time, even babies in the womb have been seen to be hiccuping.

Although hiccups will normally go away by themselves with no ongoing side-effects, according to emedicinehealth.com a number of home remedies for hiccups do actually work. You can drink a glass of water quickly, hold your breath, pull hard on your tongue or even have someone scare you.

You could also try the Valsalva manoeuvre. Originally designed to slow a racing heartbeat, the Valsalva manoeuvre has also been shown to stop hiccups.

To start, take a big breath and then hold your nose and close your mouth.

While still keeping your mouth and nose closed, push out your breath and hold for 15-16 seconds.

Open your nose or mouth and breathe out.

Gross medical fact, Antonio Maria Valsalva developed the technique in the 17th century to expel pus from the ear.

While hiccups normally aren’t a reason for concern, if they become persistent, frequent, interrupt your ability to eat or sleep, cause you to throw up or feel severe pain, last more than three hours or make you feel as though you can’t breathe, you should seek medical attention.

What is the silliest thing you’ve ever done to get rid of hiccups? Do you have any hiccup home remedies you’d like to share?

Also read: Link between walnuts and your heart health revealed.

Liv Gardiner
Liv Gardiner
Writer and editor with interests in travel, lifestyle, health, wellbeing, astrology and the enivornment.


  1. The solution for hiccups that works for me is drinking a glass of water upside down.
    Get a glass of water, stand with your legs astride, bend over so your head is between your legs, looking backwards, and drink the glass of water.
    A few gulps of water may be sufficient.
    This works instantaneously for me – when i straighten up again the hiccups are gone.
    I assume it has something to do with balancing out the air in your stomach when the water goes in and the top part of the stomach is now submerged.

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