The Reason We Get The Hiccups (And How To Get Rid Of Them)

18/12/2015 5:33 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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A hiccup sufferer tries drinking a glass of water with her head upside down. The patient carries a large paper napkin to mop up the spillage.

If you've ever had the hiccups, you'll have very quickly discovered that your friends and family are, in fact, experts on hiccups and how to get rid of them.

Hold your breath. Breathe out, then hold your breath. Drink a glass of water upside down. Drink from the other side of the glass. Have someone scare you half to death.

But why do we get hiccups in the first place?

"No one knows why we get hiccups," Dr Paul Bertrand, Neuroscience researcher at RMIT University, told The Huffington Post Australia.

"Theories range from clearing air from your stomach, helping to prepare the unborn baby for breathing, to an ancient gill breathing reflex held over from when our ancestors crawled from the ocean!"

"What we do know about hiccups is that the brain controls them. The brainstem is the area responsible and this is also the part of the brain involved in control of breathing and heart rate. The 'normal' hiccup is an involuntary reflex much like a cough or a gag. Drugs that interfere with how the brain functions can also cause hiccups (or help them -- unfortunately they also mess up many other areas of the brain!)," Bertrand said.

Okay, so we don't really know a hiccup's purpose, but we do know a little more about what can bring them on.

"Overeating or reflux are the most common causes, and the internet is full of other potential causes. In most cases, there is a change in your body (like an overfull stomach) that is communicated to your brain to start the hiccups," said Bertrand.

"Changes to your the brain can also cause hiccups, and some drugs that act on the brain can cause them. Also, brain trauma (such as stroke) can cause severe hiccups. Cancer treatment, or drugs used for Parkinson's disease or for treating psychiatric disorders can also change how your brain functions and cause hiccups."

"Hiccups can sometimes be stopped by increasing the levels of carbon dioxide in your body. This is the basis for cures such as breathing into a paper bag or holding your breath."

Probed on all of the old wives' tales regarding how to get rid of them, Bertrand could not speculate as there is no proof on cures, though Mind The Science Gap has explored a range of remedies -- including eating a spoonful of sugar, drinking a glass of water with plugged ears (you may need help with that one!), or eating a lemon wedge soaked in bitters.

Preventative advice if you're prone to hiccups is to eat less, and more slowly.

hiccups

Don't try this at home

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