Did you know that hiccups begin even before we are born? They could begin in the womb at just nine weeks’ gestational age (1). Hiccups are usually just an annoying occurrence caused by the contraction of the diaphragm, the dome-shaped muscle located below the lungs.
Hiccups are generally self-limiting and go away on their own in a few minutes. As adults, we know this, and we can wait for the episode to pass. But what about children? When little kids get hiccups, it can disrupt what they are doing and make them fussy and irritable. Knowing how to put a stop to this quickly can come in handy in such situations.
Is your little one prone to frequent bouts of hiccups? Keep reading as we tell you all you need to about hiccups in children.
Are Hiccups Good Or Bad?
Hiccups are pretty common in children and shouldn’t be a cause for concern. A recent study conducted on newborns suggests hiccups may promote brain development and help regulate breathing (1). The researchers believe that the hiccups trigger brain signals that help babies learn how to regulate their breathing.
However, persistent hiccups could indicate an underlying disorder. If hiccups affect the child’s ability to eat, breathe, or sleep, consult a doctor.
Types Of Hiccups
- Hiccups that last for a few seconds or minutes are called transient hiccups.
- Those that linger for 48 hours to one month are termed persistent hiccups.
- Hiccups that last for more than a month are termed intractable hiccups. This type of hiccups is rare and usually seen only in adults.
Persistent and retractable hiccups can lead to certain complications and affect the child’s quality of life (4).
Causes Of Hiccups In Children
- Eating or drinking too much
- Eating or drinking too fast
- Eating spicy foods
- Drinking carbonated drinks
- Drinking ice-cold water or very hot water/ beverages alternately
- Bad odors
Besides these common causes, hiccups can also be triggered by
- GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) wherein the stomach fluids flow back up into the esophagus (8).
- Strong emotions, such as excessive excitement.
- Over tiredness.
In some extremely rare cases, hiccups are a symptom of an underlying health condition that affects the esophagus, lungs, brain, or stomach (4). Hiccups can also be caused due to a side effect of surgery or certain medication. Hiccups due to these factors could prolong for a longer duration and can disrupt the child’s everyday activities.
When To See A Doctor?
If you notice any of the following conditions in your child, consider it serious enough to warrant a visit to the health care provider.
- If a bout of hiccups stays for longer than 24 hours, and it upsets your child or interferes with their everyday activities, talk to a doctor and learn ways to handle it.
- If the hiccups last longer than 48 hours, you should see a doctor.
- Intractable hiccups that last more than a month are uncommon in young children, but if your child experiences it, visiting the doctor is a must.
- See a doctor if you notice drastic weight loss in the child or insomnia that you believe is connected to hiccups.
Make a note of any other symptoms that the child may exhibit. If your child is on medication for any other conditions, do mention that to the doctor. Uncontrolled hiccups can be a symptom of some serious ailments, a side effect of some kinds of medications, and also an indicator of a foreign object in the ear (2).
How To Stop Hiccups In Kids?
You can prevent frequent hiccups in your child by taking a few simple steps. Note that these steps are generally recommended for shortening bouts of transient hiccups and not for treating persistent and intractable hiccups (2).
- Ensure the child does not gulp down food too fast.
- Teach the child to chew well before swallowing.
- Tell them to sip drinks slowly.
- Teach your child the habit of drinking straight from a glass
- Avoid using straws.
- Prevent your child from eating very hot and very cold foods alternatively.
- Avoid overfeeding your child, and if they are old enough to eat on their own, ensure they do not overeat.
Different people handle hiccups in different ways. If you are outside and are caught unawares, you can ask your child to try any of the following ways to manage hiccups:
- Drink a glass of water
- Hold their breath for as long as they can
- Breathe into a paper bag. Note that they should only use a paper bag and avoid plastic bags
- Take slow, measured breaths
- Ask them to put their head in between their knees, as far as they reach, to put pressure on the diaphragm.
- Try to distract them
You could also startle the child or give them a fright. Take care not to traumatize the child. The goal is to surprise them so that they get distracted from the hiccups. Some parents tickle the little ones instead of giving them a fright, which could be effective too.
Home Remedies For Hiccups In Children
Hiccups in children are such a common occurrence that experienced parents usually have home remedies at hand. These simple, safe treatments for hiccups can help you soothe the child and avoid doctor visits unless it is a case of persistent or intractable hiccups (6).
- Put something sour, such as a slice of lemon, in the child’s mouth and ask them to suck it.
- Put sugar under the tongue. Instruct the child to leave it for five to ten seconds before swallowing it. Other sweet foods, such as peanut butter or honey, are also found to work well in some cases.
- Let the child drink something hot or cold. This helps if the bout of hiccups has been triggered by a drastic change in the stomach temperature.
- Let them drink water slowly
- Give them ice chips.
- A gentle massage on the child’s upper stomach is also a good option. Remember to move your fingers in downward movements and be very careful not to hurt the child by pressing too hard.
- Drinking fennel, peppermint, or chamomile tea works well with muscle spasms. Use a dropper to put the drink into your young child’s mouth.
- Get the child to gargle ice-cold water for half a minute. If the hiccups persist after one round, the child can repeat this.
Hiccups are common in children, but if they recur often, they can make the child irritable. The next time your little one experiences a bout of transient hiccups, try any of the tips and home remedies mentioned above. In the case of persistent and intractable hiccups, consult a doctor promptly.
2. Juan Brañuelas Quiroga, José Urbano García, and Julio Bolaños Guedes; Hiccups: a common problem with some unusual causes and cures; British Journal of General Practice (2016).
3. Ju Hwan Lee, et al.; Treatment of Intractable Hiccups With an Oral Agent Monotherapy of Baclofen -A Case Report-; The Korean Journal of Pain (2010).
4. Chronic hiccups; Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)
5. What causes hiccups?; Harvard Health Publishing
7. Hiccups; BetterHealth Channel
8. Hiccups; NHS
9. GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) in Children; John’s Hopkins Medicine
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