While hiccups are defined as involuntary spasms of the diaphragm (a muscle that helps with breathing), there are lots of theories about why they occur. “Some believe that [hiccuping] is a form of spasmodic hyperventilation that causes a sudden intake of breath,” says Naheed A. Ali, MD, PhD, a contributor to USA Rx. “Others believe that it is a result of an imbalance of the autonomic nervous system. Others still believe that it is a result of excess air in the stomach.” Additional alleged culprits? Gastrointestinal reflux, emotional tension, and indigestion can also trigger them, says Victoria Glass, MD, a practicing doctor with Farr Institute.
Yes, hiccups are generally harmless, but they can be frustrating and even a little exhausting. Rest assured, several changes can help you avoid or stop the hiccups.
There's a reason you might hiccup more in the morning
Acid reflux—stomach acid traveling up your esophagus—can cause hiccups, and it can be worse in the morning. “Often, lying down makes acid reflux worse, which can be the cause of hiccups,” explains Monya De, MD, MPH, an internal medicine physician and journalist. But since you have to lie down to sleep well, you can address the acid reflux in other ways.
“Adjusting your bed or using quality pillows may reduce the occurrence of morning hiccups,” Dr. Glass says. “Acid reflux medications are fast solutions that aid in emptying the stomach fast.” Dr. De recommends over-the-counter medicines like Tums and Rolaids. But if the hiccups don’t change, see a doctor, she adds. “For bad causes, the patient needs to get testing done.”
Here are a few ways to prevent frequent hiccups
Monitoring your eating and drinking habits
“The most effective hiccup remedy is prevention,” Dr. Ali says. If you get hiccups after eating, he recommends avoiding coffee, tea, soda, chocolate, and alcohol (at least for a few days, to see if they're the culprit) because they can cause you to swallow air and experience acid reflux. You might also limit sucking on hard candy and chewing gum.
Taking deep breaths
Since hiccups are spasms of the diaphragm, taking deep breaths is a possible solution. “Holding your breath for five seconds before exhaling ... may be the perfect remedy for you,” Dr. Glass says. “Try slowing down, take deep breaths, and relax your muscles and see how that works for you.”
Breathing practices like these can also calm your body down when you’re feeling (which can cause hiccups, too).
Dr. Glass also says slowly sipping warm water can relax your diaphragm. Taking 20 tiny sips as quickly as possible, specifically, is another doctor-approved remedy.
My personal hiccup hack is similar: drinking upside down. Take a swig, hold your head upside down, and swallow. If you try this, just be careful. Don't swallow the wrong way or attempt to drink too much in one go.
Having the hiccups can certainly be frustrating, especially when they happen first thing in the morning. But with tips and preventative measures like these, they don’t have to ruin your day.
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