Quinn’s Queries: What are Hiccups?

Hiccups: What are they?

Hiccups are distractingly, sometimes painful, burdens that everyone dreads to contract yet is frequently faced. Hiccups are when you inhale sharply without properly inhaling oxygen and you can feel the muscles in your abdomen and chest contract.

I bet you’ve wondered why humans must exist with this painful burden since it must have some very important purpose in how we function and survive, right? Well, no. Hiccups play no part in human survival and function because it is a vestigial function.

Vestigial is a fancy term that means not important in its basic definition, and the human body has quite a few vestigial functions, organs, and other types of parts. The appendix, ear muscles, and lung glands are a few examples of parts of the body that have absolutely no reason to exist. These parts of the human body are vestigial because they were once necessary at one point in human evolution, but at the current evolutionary standpoint of humans, we no longer need muscles in our ears, glands in our lungs, or hiccups.

It is believed by scientists that fish that existed billions of years ago needed to breathe oxygen but could not inhale water. So, those fish would quickly suck in oxygen filled water, cause the water to stop in the back of the throat, let the oxygen enter their lungs, and then expel the carbon dioxide and water. This is important because modern day humans still perform this function without breathing underwater.

Hiccups do not occur out of survival for humans like they did for the fish back then, but they do occur when the body goes into a form of distress. The diaphragm is a large muscle that surrounds the top of the stomach and sits right below the lungs in a comfortable saddle like shape. So when the lungs expand too greatly or the stomach expands which is often from overeating, eating or drinking too fast, or drinking carbonated liquids, the diaphragm is under a lot of stress or pressure.

The diaphragm reacts by spasming like most muscles do when uncomfortable or strained. The spasming of the muscle that is so very close to the lungs, causes sharp reactions of the lungs. When the lung is practically hit by the diaphragm, a person inhales very fast, and that fast intake of oxygen did not give the body enough time to comprehend the action causing the vocal cords to snap shut, blocking any oxygen from getting into the lungs.

The vocal cords are a very complex structure of the human body that determines how we produce sound, but very simply, they are almost like a little trap door in the middle of your throat. And when that trap door is shut, no sound can necessarily be produced, so when a person’s body reacts to a sharp intake of air by the vocal cord trap door slamming shut, a person produces that trademarked hic noise as the vocal cords reaction to the sudden command.

There is no scientific explanation for why hiccups occur randomly, though. You could be doing homework, not eating or drinking anything nor breathing harshly, and still be burdened with that horrible hiccing sensation. Scientists still have yet to understand why that is so, but my guess is that it is our evolutionized bodies trying to remember how we needed to survive all those millions of millennia ago.

Even for those random unexplainable cases of the hiccups, there are some household remedies that can help them disappear. Drinking a cold glass of water at a paced speed is one of the best ways to cure yourself. Believe it or not, traditional remedies like holding your breath or being scared half to death do not work. They are simply folktales that people way back when gave a shot and it seemed to work enough times for it to count.

Now you know how hiccups work, what would you like to learn next?