What Causes Hiccups In Children And How To Stop Them?

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Hiccups are innate, involuntary reflexes that could begin in the womb at just nine weeks of gestational age (1). Though they aren’t a cause for worry, hiccups in kids can be bothersome since they can disrupt what they are doing and make them fussy and irritable. Hiccups are caused by the contraction of the diaphragm, the dome-shaped muscle located below the lungs.

They are generally self-limiting and go away on their own in a few minutes. However, though adults are usually willing to wait for a hiccup episode to pass, children aren’t. Hence, parents need to be equipped with remedies that could stop the hiccups quickly. If your child is prone to frequent bouts of hiccups, continue reading.

This post tells you about types of hiccups, their causes, and home remedies that could help manage hiccups in children.

Are Hiccups Good Or Bad?

Hiccups promote brain development and regulate breathing in newborns

Image: iStock

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 can be classified into three types based on the duration of each episode (2) (3).

  • 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

Drinking carbonated drinks may trigger hiccups in children

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The following are some of the most common triggers of hiccups in children (5) (6) (7):

  • 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
  • Indigestion
  • Stress
  • Bad odors

Besides these common causes, hiccups can also be triggered by

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?

See a doctor if your child faces insomnia due to hiccups

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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?

Ensure your child eats slowly and chews the food properly

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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

Sucking a slice of lemon may help treat hiccups

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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).

  1. Put something sour, such as a slice of lemon, in the child’s mouth and ask them to suck it.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Let them drink water slowly
  5. Give them ice chips.
  6. 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.
  7. Drinking fennel, peppermint, or chamomile tea works well with muscle spasms. Use a dropper to put the drink into your young child’s mouth.
  8. Get the child to gargle ice-cold water for half a minute. If the hiccups persist after one round, the child can repeat this.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What happens when a child hiccups?

During hiccups, the diaphragm closes and is immediately followed by laryngeal closure. This causes a sudden rush of air into the lungs. It makes a “hic” sound since the vocal cords are closed now (10).

2. Are frequent hiccups a symptom of anything in children?

Frequent hiccups can be a symptom of brain lesions, liver and kidney problems, tumors, intestinal diseases, or uremic poisoning. It can also be due to unknown resins or irritation due to surgeries or drugs (11).

3. Is it normal for children to get hiccups multiple times a day?

Children can get hiccups multiple times a day due to various reasons. This can be due to an underlying condition, overeating, or eating too fast (12).

4. What causes random occasional single hiccups in children?

Minor irritations can cause an occasional single hiccup in children. Single hiccups can be associated with strong emotions or eating or drinking. This may also occur without any obvious reasons (13).

5. Do hiccups mean children are growing?

Hiccups are not an indicator of growth in children. Some anecdotal beliefs from the past say hiccups mean a growth spurt in children, but these are not true (14).

Hiccups in children are common. Eating or drinking too much or too fast, eating spicy foods, and indigestion are some of its common causes. Unless hiccups are occasional and brief, they aren’t a cause for concern. However, consulting a doctor is preeminent if hiccups are becoming too frequent and interfering with your child’s daily activities. Sucking something sour, such as a lemon slice, drinking something hot or cold, and gently massaging your child’s stomach are a few ways to relieve your child from transient hiccups.

Infographic: Questions To Expect At The Doctor’s Visit

Hiccups in children may seldom be a concern. But if it interferes with your child’s daily activities and causes discomfort, you must take them to the pediatrician. This infographic will help you prepare for the doctor’s visit by filling you in on the common questions you may be asked. Take notes and prepare the answers for an accurate and smooth diagnosis.

hiccups in children [infographic]
Illustration: MomJunction Design Team

Key Pointers

  • Hiccups in children are common and are believed to aid in breathing regulation.
  • Children may experience hiccups due to acid refluxes, stress, or eating something spicy.
  • If hiccups persist longer than usual or are accompanied by abnormal weight loss, it can indicate an underlying issue.
  • Certain home remedies such as drinking water slowly or sucking on a lemon may help cope.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Newborn baby hiccups could be key to brain development; American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
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
6. Hiccups; BetterHealth Channel
7. Hiccups; NHS
8. GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) in Children; John’s Hopkins Medicine
9. Full-Young Chang and Ching-Liang Lu; Hiccup: Mystery, Nature and Treatment; National Library of Medicine (2012)
10. Hiccups, Chronic; National Organization For Rare Disorders
11. Child hiccups are seldom cause for alarm; OSF Healthcare
12. Hiccups; National Health Service
13. Why Do You Get Hiccups? (And How to Stop Them); Cleveland Clinic
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Dr. Ritika Shah

Dr. Ritika Shah is a certified lactation counsellor (CLC) from iNational Health Care Academy, Singapore and a dental surgeon with more than seven years of clinical experience across various cities in India. She did her graduation in Dentistry from KM Shah Dental College. During her clinical practice, pediatric dentistry was her particular area of interest, and she constantly thrived to...
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Dr. Anuradha Bansal

(MD)
Dr. Anuradha Bansal is a pediatrician and neonatologist working as assistant professor in the Department of Paediatrics at PIMS Jalandhar. She has done her MBBS and MD Pediatrics at GMCH, Chandigarh. Thereafter, she polished her skills as senior resident at MAMC, Delhi. She has also done IAP Fellowship in Neonatology at GMCH, Chandigarh and obtained the membership of the prestigious...
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