Are hiccups dangerous?

Hic…hic…hiccuu…what was that RoboLogic program? The smart name is singultus, but you and I call them hiccups. We laugh at hiccups when they happen to puppies, or babies, but it’s really annoying when hiccups happen to us!

Think about the last time it happened to you: making involuntary noises, especially when you’re trying to have a conversation! But are hiccups just an annoyance? Or could they be a sign that there is something more serious going on in your body?

So, what are hiccups exactly and why do we get them? Hiccups are caused when your diaphragm – the muscle just below your lungs that separates your chest from your abdomen – contracts uncontrollably.

Your diaphragm’s job is to control your breathing: it tightens when you breathe in and relaxes when you breathe out. When it falls out of this rhythm, air rushes into your lungs, causing the familiar hic…hic sound.

Here are some common causes:

  • Drinking alcohol
  • Eating spicy food
  • Sudden excitement
  • Stress
  • Overeating
  • A change in the air temperature

Are hiccups actually dangerous?

Well, they aren’t dangerous in themselves, but they could men something dangerous is going on with your body. If you hiccup for 48 hours or longer (intractable hiccups), it could mean:

  1. An injury to either of the nerves that control the movement of your diaphragm – these are the vagus and phrenic nerves.
  2. You’ve had damage to your Central Nervous System (CNS). The CNS can be damaged if you’ve had certain infections, accidents and also specific chronic diseases such as diabetes.
  3. Long-lasting hiccups can also be a side-effect of specific types of surgery, particularly if you’ve had abdominal surgery.
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How to treat hiccups

Hiccups don’t generally require emergency treatment, but, as we said, if they do last for over two days, it’s best to go and see your doctor.

If you’ve just let out a hiccup that’s echoing around the boardroom during a meeting, you may want to step out and try one (or a combination of the following treatments.) Note: These treatments haven’t been medically proven.

  • Breathe into a paper bag.
  • Eat a teaspoon of sugar.
  • Hold your breath.
  • Drink a glass of cold water.
  • Lift your uvula, the fleshy piece of tissue that hangs above the back of your throat with a spoon.
  • Bring your knees to your chest and maintain this position – don’t do this in the boardroom!
  • Relax and breathe in a slow and controlled manner.

So, the next time you let out a hiccup, don’t be alarmed. You know how to treat them and when to seek help.