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6 Facts About Hiccups

October 5, 2015

May these hiccup facts scare the hiccups right out of you.

Young woman with hiccup

  • The official medical word for hiccups is singultus, which comes from a Latin word that means “to catch one’s breath while crying.”
  • A hiccup is actually two separate involuntary actions, not just one. First a muscle in the diaphragm spasms, which makes you inhale more air than you’d normally need. Then, the glottis, a flap of skin which blocks airway to the lung, closes immediately after—about 35 milliseconds after the mass inhalation. It’s that glottis closing that makes the “hiccup” sound.
  • Who hiccups? Most mammals, but humans more than other mammals. And of humans, babies more than adult humans, and even fetuses in the womb hiccup.
  • Do all those “home remedies” for hiccups really work? Yes and no. Rapidly swallowing water, or breathing into a paper bag both release calcium ions into the blood, which can block nervous system activity. Those activities could include muscle spasms.
  • Relax: The average hiccuping episode lasts about five minutes. The longest on record, however, belongs to a man named Charles Osborne, who hiccuped from 1922 to 1990. The hiccups, which had obviously baffled doctors, continued until he was 96 and he got a year without hiccups before he died at age 97.
  • There’s no real reason why humans hiccup, or at least none that scientists have figured out yet. It’s theorized that it’s a holdover from when humans were still evolving away from being amphibious, and needed a way to quickly close off airways so water didn’t get in.
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