|MadSci Network: Medicine|
That is a good question. I'm sure people have been asking that question since before recorded history. And you know what? We still don't know. That is, no one knows for sure. After reviewing 192 scientific references, one researcher concluded, "The purpose of the hiccup is unknown". In my search I repeatedly found answers like the one given by Jethro Kloss in his book "Back to Eden" ... Causes: "Irritation of the phrenic nerve, resulting in contraction and spasm of the diaphragm. Excessive food or drink in the stomach." There is no question that a hiccup is a contraction of the diaphragm (the muscle that controls breathing between the lungs and the abdominal area). And since the diaphragm is controlled by the phernic nerve, it is most assuredly involved as well. In fact, if you cut the phrenic nerve, there are no more hiccups. But what does that have to do with overeating, or drinking too much alcohol, or eating too fast (some things thought to sometimes cause hiccups)? In other words the real question is, "why do we hiccup?" What, in the course of our evolution, made it possible for those who hiccup well (whatever that is) to survive over those who didn't hiccup? It is very possible that the hiccup is a remnant from a very distant evolutionary past that has no use anymore and may not even be the same thing it once was. Or, it may server some yet unidentified purpose. The best and most extensive discussion I found on the Internet was this one http://www.inxpres s.net/~oastiennon/webdoc21.htm by Dr. O. Arthur Stiennon. Although somewhat technical, this is an excellent discussion of hiccups including some 26 scientific references. Dr. Stiennon contends that hiccups are used to get excess gas out of the stomach (much like a burp) but do so in a manner that would prevent stomach contents from getting into the lungs. This could be thought of as the evolutionary advantage that evolved the hiccup, but I did not come across any others who seemed to take Dr. Stiennon's point of view. One thing is for sure, there are a lot of ways to cure them. Here is a list of some cures I came across. "A woman was once brought to me who was nearly dead from hiccoughs. I gave her the juice of half an orange and the hiccoughs stopped immediately. The juice of an orange will usually stop hiccoughs." Chew gum Blow on your thumb Put peanut butter on the end of your tongue. Take a spoon of sugar Suck on a lemon Take a tablespoon full of vinegar Chew & swallow dry bread Gargle with water Hold your breath Suck on crushed ice Tickle your nose until you sneeze Drink water fast Drink water slowly Drink water with your nose plugged Drink water with someone’s fingers in your ears "Take three deep breaths and hold the last one as long as you can. Then blow the air out as if you were whistling. Done properly, it never fails." And my personal favorite: "Tell someone, 'I will give you $5 if you hiccup again right now'." Apparently, this one really does work every time. :-) Thanks for the question. It has been answered a couple times already here on the Mad Science Network. For those answers and other related to hiccups, and sneezing see this link to our FAQ page. http://www.madsci.org/FAQs/ body/hsy.html Dave Leonard, MD Navy Flight Surgeon
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