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Hiccups (singultus in medical speak, which is Latin for catching your breath while sobbing) are caused by involuntary contractions of the diaphragm — a chest muscle that plays a role in breathing.
The “hic” sound is produced by the sudden closure of your vocal cords, which follows each diaphragm contraction.
In the absence of any other medical conditions or recent surgeries, hiccups are almost always benign (non-worrying).
The most common triggers for hiccups that last less than 48 hours include:
- Drinking carbonated drinks/alcohol, eg. beer
- Eating too much/too fast and swallowing air
- Excitement or emotional stress
Do I need to see a doctor for persistent intermittent hiccups?
Almost all cases of hiccups go away on their own without any treatment.
Simple remedies (unproven) that you may want to try include:
- Sipping ice-cold water
- Drinking water through a straw while plugging your ears
- Holding your breath for a short period
- Breathing into a paper bag
- Eating a spoonful of granulated sugar
- Biting a lemon
- Eating peanut butter
Having said that, it may be worth seeing a doctor if they last for longer than 48 hours, or are so severe that they cause problems with sleeping/eating/breathing.
Your doctor may prescribe you with medication that can help to get rid of the hiccups (and also rule out possible causes for the hiccups). Examples are baclofen and chlorpromazine.