Most everyone gets hiccups, those annoying, involuntary fits that make it difficult to carry on a conversation. But while their true cause varies widely from person to person, as do preferred remedies, hiccups generally result from over-stimulation of nerves connecting the brain and diaphragmWhy do we hiccup? Kahrilas PJ., Shi G. Northwestern University Medical School, Department of Medicine, Chicago, IL. USA. International Journal of Gastroenerology and Hepatology 1997 Nov;41(5):712-3.Hiccups in adults. Bizec JL., Launois S., Bolgert F., et al. S.O.S. Hoquet: Service de Pneumologie, Groupe Hospitalier Pitié-Salpêtrière, Paris. Revue Maladies Respiratoires. 1995;12(3):219-29.Hiccups: causes and cures. Lewis JH. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology. 1985 Dec;7(6):539-52..

Though the causes of hiccups remain a bit of a mystery, they’re usually a reaction to a range of disturbances that aggravate the vagus and phrenic nerves, which connect the brain to the diaphragmWhy do we hiccup? Kahrilas PJ., Shi G. Northwestern University Medical School, Department of Medicine, Chicago, IL. USA. International Journal of Gastroenerology and Hepatology 1997 Nov;41(5):712-3.Retrospective analysis of hiccups in patients at a community hospital from 1995-2000. Cymet TC. Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, USA. Journal of the National Medical Association. 2002 Jun;94(6):480-3.. In other words, agitation can cause the diaphragm to quickly pull down, causing a sudden rush of air that closes the vocal cords at lightning speed and creates the characteristic “hic” noiseWhy do we hiccup? Kahrilas PJ., Shi G. Northwestern University Medical School, Department of Medicine, Chicago, IL. USA. International Journal of Gastroenerology and Hepatology 1997 Nov;41(5):712-3.Hiccups in adults. Bizec JL., Launois S., Bolgert F., et al. S.O.S. Hoquet: Service de Pneumologie, Groupe Hospitalier Pitié-Salpêtrière, Paris. Revue Maladies Respiratoires. 1995;12(3):219-29.. And no matter how polite the setting, the noises usually occur involuntarily. While the causes of hiccups vary from person to person, scarfing down a meal, drinking something fizzy or hot, coughing or laughing, or any kind of excitement can be enough to over-stimulate the diaphragm and cause hiccups. Most cases usually go away by themselves, and while scientists and schoolchildren alike have proposed countless hiccup remedies, none stand out as a clear winnerHiccups: causes and cures. Lewis JH. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology. 1985 Dec;7(6):539-52.Can you recommend any hiccup cures? Mayo Clin Health Lett. 2009 Jun;27(6):8..

The mystery surrounding hiccups can make treatment difficult to pinpoint. Most home remedies are believed to work through either of two principles: relaxing the diaphragm by causing the lungs to hold carbon dioxide, or overwhelming the vagus nerve with another sensation. Re-stimulating the nerves can be done in a myriad of fun— and sometimes disgusting— ways. Grandma would be proud, butthe verdict’s still out on whether these folksy treatments really live up to the hiccup hype:

Some cases of the hiccups can last for days or weeks, which may be a sign of another medical problem like significant head trauma, ulcers, or pancreatitisWhy do we hiccup? Kahrilas PJ., Shi G. Northwestern University Medical School, Department of Medicine, Chicago, IL. USA. International Journal of Gastroenerology and Hepatology 1997 Nov;41(5):712-3.Prolonged hiccups causing worsened quality of life— successful medical therapy. Szigeti N, Fábián G. Pécsi Tudományegyetem, Orvos- es Egészségtudományi Centrum Altalános Orvostudományi Kar, II. Belgyígyászati Klinika es Nephrologiai Centrum, Pécs. Orvosi Hetiapl. 2005 Oct 9;146(41):2117-9.. In rare cases, physicians may prescribe medication or electrical stimulation to help correct nerve function. But most hiccups are a temporary nuisance and will usually go away on their own. Better swallow those spoonfuls of sugar while there’s still an excuse!