Hiccups are caused by a reflex, which causes the large muscle that divides our chest and our abdomen to forcefully contract. This muscle contraction then causes our vocal cords to snap shut, creating the hiccup sound.
What purpose does hiccuping service? We know that infants hiccup more often then adults. The theory is that when infants hiccup while nursing, it forces air out of their stomach so that they can ingest more milk!
In adults, hiccuping can be caused by coughing, swallowing air, rapid eating, and even by intense emotions.
Many folk remedies are used for hiccups, such as headstands, squeezing the ear lobe, frightening the person hiccuping, and drinking water upside down. None of these are known to be consistently effective. Breathing into a paper bag may be helpful. Multiple medications have been tried for patients with long-standing hiccups, with varying success.
The Guinness Book of Records lists Charles Osborne for having the hiccups for 68 years!