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Those annoying hiccups

Published:Saturday | June 9, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Dr Douglas Street, Contributor

There are very few people who have never had hiccups and, therefore, would not know how annoying they are. There a few things more annoying than your own body doing something you don't want it to do, with you having no control over it.

Hiccups are caused from uncontrollable spasms of the diaphragm, which pulls air suddenly into the lungs, followed by sudden closure of the vocal cords that produces the 'hic' sound. The diaphragm is a thin muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen and its contraction creates the suction that pulls air into the lungs enabling us to breathe.

There are a number of situations that may increase the risk of hiccups. They are more common in males, and eating too fast or too much seems to trigger them off. Eating too quickly can cause one to swallow a significant amount of air, resulting in hiccups. Eating too much fatty foods or drinking too much carbonated or alcoholic beverages may be a trigger.

Drinking hot then cold drinks can set them off as well. Irritating fumes and smoking may also bring on hiccups. They tend to be more common in babies during the first year of life, especially those with gastroesophageal reflux disease.

As with many other conditions, sudden anxiety and stress can trigger hiccups as well. Even laughter can cause them.

There are also medical problems and medications that may contribute to this condition, especially some used to treat anxiety and Parkinson's disease. Electrolyte imbalance, strokes, brain tumours, head injuries, multiple sclerosis, and infections of the brain may initiate hiccups.

Home remedies

There are a number of home remedies that may help with hiccups, including holding of your breath, drinking water quickly, having someone startle you, using smelling salts, having someone pull hard on your tongue, breathing into a paper bag, and putting sugar or honey on the tongue every few minutes.

Sometimes hiccups can be so stubborn that they need medical intervention. These include chlorpromazine and haloperidol (antipsychotics), metoclopramide (a medication for vomiting), and phenytoin (a seizure medication). If these still don't work, an anaesthetic may be needed to block the nerve that produces them.

Dr Douglas Street is a general practitioner and has private practices at Trinity Medical Centre, Trinity Mall at 3 Barnett Street in Montego Bay, and Omega Medical Centre at Plaza de Negril, Negril. Send feedback to