Hic, Hic, Hiccup!


We’ve all had that kick of the hic. In a public moment of acclaim, over a sophisticated dinner party, at some really, really pin drop silence setting, or just about anytime in general because that’s how hiccups work- they arrive without warning but announce their remarkable presence to the world with a sound not so fine that captures all the attention. A basic human, err mammal condition, that can be considered in rare cases to be also of medical beginnings, in which case they should rather be referred to as singultus, hiccups are very involuntary actions involving the reflex arc, whatever that might mean. Finding commonplace interpretation through times, hiccups are but arising out of evolutionary reasons as is believed due to the fact that it isn’t just proper men and animals who experience this helpless bout of annoying interruptions but even fetuses who hiccup. Infants though are still known to hiccup more than grown ups for reasons not very clear, though they can be interpreted as a mechanism that allows for air trapped in the stomach of suckling infants to escape, which subsequently allows more ingestion of milk. Whatever might be the hypotheses though, established or otherwise, it is clear that hiccups will continue to strike the entire range of the mammalic existence till perhaps the time that time itself permits.

But despite the inexplicably elusive explanation of why hiccups haven’t ceased to exist even in the evolved, modern day human, the mechanism of its working is not very complex. Hiccups are caused as a result of a spasm that occurs in the diaphragm when it gets irritated, this irritation again possibly being the result of numerous triggers. From the many variations of the emotional to the numerous experiences of the physical, the basis from which hiccups originate is a certain and sudden expansion of the stomach that which can be brought about by a range of factors. And while this remarkably commonplace phenomenon is traditionally seen as harmless, something that dies down as abruptly as it had emerged, hiccups can sometimes be the harbinger of other health complications. As also perhaps an evolutionary remnant of earlier amphibian respiration that which largely crossed over to the fore of the mammalian, hiccups might therefore still retain some of the ‘significance’ of it, albeit in such concerns that have been outlined of them over the years, even when no definitive theory exists yet as to why they occur and how they can cease to.

Consistent yet erratic even in the fairly regular intervals through which a bout of it occurs, hiccups really are an intriguing phenomena pertaining to the living physiology. In the uncertain nature of it that sees it occur without any surety indeed limits the scope of its study, therefore reserving the status of its ‘cure’, even when it isn’t exactly an ailment in most cases. And yet there has persisted throughout the years, such range of its ‘treatment’ that continue to be prescribed till date, perhaps in the absence of other efficient alternative but also in part perhaps because they somewhat work. In the self limited nature of them, hiccups tend to subside of their own but some popular means of staving their continuity have been such measures scientifically valid as breathing into a paper bag or holding the breath for some seconds or pulling the knees up to the chest and leaning forward. Other arbitrary means of its cure are such measures rooted in tradition and popular belief that which ranges from headstanding, drinking a glass of water upside-down, being frightened by someone, eating a large spoonful of peanut butter or even some salt instead and placing sugar on or under the tongue, having someone scare you off and so on and so forth. Sipping ice cold water and swallowing granulated sugar, or biting into lemons and even pressing lightly on the eyeballs as a means of activating the vagus nerve happens also to be medically prescribed ways to get rid of hiccups, with the empirical effectiveness of it however still not allowing them to be called ‘the’ definitive cure. But while these tend to be purported remedies, that though rooted in belief still are more or less similarly adhered to the world over, there still exists certain rather distinctive’ cures’ for this certain problem that has the potential to turn hickier.

Inciting particular interest is one particularly English remedy that sounds like all sorts of exorcism that might pertain to the parallel world of the demonic in a fairytale. With ælfsogoða or elf hiccup the name for this condition in old English believed to be caused by demonic elves, it only is obvious that the cure for such an occult occurrence would only call for some equally supernatural solution. Erupts therefore a particular salve of herbs and rites, singed to with a religious verse in Latin or in case you aren’t exactly proficient in the latter, a more disdained remedy that requires you to spit on your forefinger, make a cross on the front of your left shoe, and say the Lord’s Prayer backward to let those hics go away naturally, er, supernaturally.

England however isn’t the only land that believes that spit makes for a component of the potion that can offset the embarrassment of hiccups. People of The Philippines believe that a thread wetted with spit can do the trick as can a wetted square of paoper towel, either of which needs to be directly applied to the forehead. Latin Americans are more specific- their thread needs to be red while a particular Romani people believes that the key to the hiccup cure lies amusingly in an actual key instead! With the red thread still in play, the Sinti Romans advocate tying a key to the red string, putting it around the neck, and throwing the key over the left shoulder of whoever is being characterised by those bouts of annoyance.

Equally invoking somewhat sinister awe is the Norwegian cure for hiccups that mandates anyone experiencing the streak to take three sips of water from a glass containing a sharp knife, thankfully and thoughtfully pointy side down, all while holding your breath. Finland’s remedy is more or less similar but less adventurous though that requires you to just swap a spoon for the knife while sipping on some sugared water without the additional inconvenience of having to hold your breath. Continuing the association of hiccups with food and drink is Japan that sees the country’s invariably sipid affinity for soy persist not just through its allegiance to the superfood natto but also as a means of interrupting the interruption itself, as just the native word for soy, daizu bears enough power to stop the recurrence when said loud and clear.

For something affording of such cures steeped in the beliefs and customs, it is not surprising that hiccups have as peculiar reasons of origin attributed to them. Throughout the world, it is a common belief that hiccups are a sign that the ‘victim’ is being missed by someone. Even specific to this belief is the fact that has some like the ancient Greeks and the present day Hungarians convinced that hiccups occur only when someone is holding you remembrance in utmost hate, asserting further another related reason that accords hiccups the ominous identity of manifesting in someone who are cursed with bad luck and has Satan residing inside of them. More real reasons as to why you might be experiencing hiccups can be such mindless tendencies like eating or drinking too quickly or eating some types of spicy foods and dry foods and a sudden change of temperature in the stomach caused by such eating or drinking, drinking alcohol or carbonated beverages, smoking, use of opiate drug, swallowing air and such erratic physiological practices.

Even the experience of certain intense emotions can ‘overwhelm’ the diaphragm enough to set you off on a hiccupping spree. Laughter, anxiety, sobbing, and excitement all can trigger hiccups and so can stress in the wide range of emotional responses it stems as. More serious causes of hiccups can be underlying medical conditions like heart attack or kidney failure or even the symptoms of certain kinds of tumours and cancers, while skull fracture, tuberculosis, epilepsy, meningitis, bowel obstruction, diabetes mellitus and ulcerative colitis can also manifest initially in the body in such bouts of alleged remembrance. Even then though, not all frequent hiccups need to be cause for alarm as had been the case with a certain Charles Osbourne who holds the Guinness World Record for the longest attack of hiccups, an astonishing 430 million recurrence over a period of 68 years, from 1922 to February 1990 and who still went on to live as wholesome a life as any other. Another serially long hiccupper however wasn’t as lucky, as hiccupping an estimated 10 million times from February 2007 to May 2009 was Christopher Sands whose condition was attributed to a tumor on his brain stem pushing on nerves. Hiccupping therefore every two seconds, 12 hours a day over a 27 month period, Sands finally found respite when he was operated upon, squandering therefore the opportunity to overtake Osbourne as the world record holder. All to good effect though.