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Good Question: What Causes The Hiccups?

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(credit: CBS) Jason DeRusha
Jason DeRusha filed his first report for WCCO-TV on April Fool's D...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – At the Minnesota State Fair a few weeks ago, a lot of people brought their Good Questions to Jason DeRusha.

But a couple of kids brought the same two questions: (1) What causes hiccups? (2) How can you stop them?

Laura Patton is a physician’s assistant at Fairview’s Savage Clinic.

“Hiccups are caused by a reflex arc, which basically causes muscles between ribs and diaphragm to spasm,” she said.

The reflex is triggered by two different nerves, either the vagus nerves or phrenic nerves. When something irritates those nerves, look out.

“Eating too much, eating too fast” causes the reflex, Patton said. “If you’re smoking or chewing gum, swallowing air can irritate the two nerves that cause the reflex.”

Carbonated drinks can do it, too.

Researchers aren’t sure what the reason for the reflex is. But they do know ways to stop it.

“[Milk] actually can help,” Patton said. “The two nerves that are involved…one is involved in taste.”

Eating peanut butter or dry sugar can reset the vagus nerve, stopping the reflex.

Unborn babies can get hiccups, too.

“This happens in most babies,” Patton said. “[It’s] probably an exercise to train your body.”

There are people who just can’t stop hiccuping. So if it lasts more than a month, go to the doctor. Sometimes there’s something in your ear irritating the nerve. It could be a more serious medical problem, too.

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