Have you ever wondered… why we get hiccups?

We all have our different cures, from the mundane to the ridiculous; some insist on holding their breath, others swear to standing on their heads. One of my teachers, bizarrely, always told me to think of ten bald men that I knew. Cures are one thing, but why do we actually get hiccups in the first place?

As far as we know, hiccups do nothing for us and seem to have no purpose apart from being a nuisance once in a while. They are abrupt contractions of muscles that we use to breathe in and the ‘hic’ sound comes from the glottis shutting off the windpipe just as the muscles start to move. But they do have a purpose for some fish and amphibians – they breathe by pushing water across their gills, and close their glottis to stop water from getting into their lungs.

This adaptation seems to have persisted from our fishy ancestors to modern mammals, but why? Researchers think it might be useful as it could be an early stage in the development of suckling – sort of like crawling before you start walking. Babies actually start hiccuping in the womb even before breathing movements occur.

The record holder for hiccuping was Charles Osbourne of Iowa, who died in 1991, having hiccuped constantly since 1922. So next time you find yourself hiccuping in a lecture, just be thankful you’re not him and maybe test out my teacher’s bald men theory. You might be surprised.

Faiza Peeran


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