Most people get hiccups – or hiccoughs – from time to time. Hiccups occur when the diaphragm – the muscle that separates your chest from your abdomen and plays an important role in breathing – suddenly and involuntarily tightens, resulting in a hiccup sound being produced at the top of the windpipe. The medical name for hiccups is singultus.
Hiccups are a reflex action, which means that you don't have any control over them. Hiccups are not usually serious and in most cases only last a few minutes.
Hiccups can affect people of any age, including babies. Men and women are equally affected by episodes of short-lived hiccups.
Hiccups in babies
It is very common for babies under 12 months to get the hiccups. In fact, babies often hiccup in the womb before they are born.
Hiccups are not a reason for concern and they will generally cause a baby no distress. Your baby will usually stop hiccupping within 5 to 10 minutes, but if your baby's hiccups do not stop within a couple of hours, you should see your doctor.
Babies usually hiccup when they are being fed and they will sometimes hiccup for no apparent reason. There is no reason to try to stop your baby from hiccuping, but sometimes a breastfeed or some water can help it stop.
If you find that your baby often gets hiccups during feeding, you may want to slow down the feeding to allow time for your baby to be more relaxed.
How do you stop hiccups?
Hiccups will usually stop on their own. While there have been many solutions suggested for hiccups, they are not scientifically proven. Here are some common home remedies to try:
- slowly sipping ice-cold water
- holding your breath for a short period
- gently placing pressure on your nose while swallowing
- gently placing pressure on the diaphragm
- biting on a lemon
- tasting vinegar
- breathing into a paper bag (never place a bag over your head)
- pulling your knees up to your chest
- leaning forward to compress your chest
When should you worry about hiccups?
If hiccups are persistent, or last longer than 48 hours, your doctor will investigate whether an underlying condition may be causing them and may be able to prescribe medication to stop the episode.
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Last reviewed: November 2020