Hiccups are repetitive involuntary contractions of the diaphragm (the muscle separating the chest from the abdomen). The diaphragm plays an important role in breathing in that as it contracts, the space in the chest cavity increases to accommodate the increasing volume of the lungs during breathing in. When experiencing the hiccup, each diaphragmatic contraction is followed by a sudden closure of the vocal cords (structures of the voice box responsible for voice production), which produces the characteristic “hic” sound.

The most common triggers for hiccups that last less than 48 hours include:

Eating rapidly, drinking carbonated beverages or excess much alcohol, excitement or emotional stress, sudden temperature changes

Hiccups that last more than 48 hours may be caused by:

  • Nerve damage or irritation due to hair or something else in your ear touching your eardrum, neck swellings or sore throat
  • Trauma, infections, cancers in the brain or spinal cord
  • Chronic diseases like kidney failure, liver failure and diabetes
  • Prolonged use of certain prescription drugs or general anaesthetic drugs (drugs used to cause unconsciousness during surgery)

Consider seeking medical assessment if your hiccups last more than 48 hours or if they are so severe that they cause problems with eating, sleeping or breathing.

There’s no certain way to stop hiccups, although some prescription medications may help to a certain extent. If you have a bout of hiccups that lasts longer than a few minutes, the following home remedies may provide relief, although they are unproven:

  • Breathe in and out a paper bag – this enables you to re-breath in the air you previously breathed out
  • Gargle using ice water
  • Hold your breath for about 6 seconds. Repeat as many times as possible
  • Sip cold water