Why spicy foods cause hiccups (and what to do about it)
Do you love to indulge in spicy foods, only to be hit with hiccups afterward? You’re not alone! It’s extremely common to get hiccups after eating spicy stuff, which can be an uncomfortable nuisance.
There’s yet to be a medically agreed-upon answer to why this happens, but research helps paint the picture.
Read on to learn the science behind why we hiccup, why spicy foods may trigger them, and a few ideas on how to get rid of hiccups more quickly.
Why do we hiccup?
Hiccups are a common and often inexplicable bodily phenomenon that can be acute or chronic. Although doctors once believed that persistent hiccups were caused by a disease that produces an abnormal irritation of the phrenic nerve, we now know that there are several potential causes for chronic and acute hiccups (Souadjian & Cain, 1968).
One of the leading explanations is that hiccups are caused by an involuntary contraction, or spasm, of the diaphragm, which is then followed by a contraction of the glottis. This temporary airflow blockage into the windpipe results in the classic “hiccup” sound we all know. While hiccups can be bothersome, they are usually harmless and typically resolve on their own.
Why do spicy foods sometimes cause hiccups?
I have not found specific research on why spicy foods may cause hiccups; however, several studies mention this phenomenon (Lee et al., 2010) (Peleg & Peleg, 2000) (Turkyilmaz & Eroglu, 2007).
The assumption behind this is the presence of capsaicin, a natural chemical compound that makes peppers spicy. When capsaicin binds to a pain receptor called TRPV1, it creates a spicy effect. However, capsaicin can also act as an irritant and activate neurons in the diaphragm. This activation causes the diaphragm to contract, leading to hiccups. Although hiccups caused by spicy foods can be uncomfortable, they are generally harmless and will usually go away on their own (Gigot, 1952).
How to get rid of hiccups caused by spicy foods
Hiccups caused by consuming spicy foods usually resolve on their own within a few minutes. Because the assumed mechanism behind the hiccups is an irritation caused by capsaicin, the hiccups usually wane after the irritation stops. Luckily, the effects of capsaicin usually don’t last long in the body and will dissipate on their own.
While there is no clinical evidence supporting their effectiveness, several home remedies may help shorten the duration of acute hiccups (Steger et al., 2015). These remedies include intra-nasal application of vinegar, smelling salts, drinking ice water, applying a cold compress to the face, carotid massage, induced fright, and holding your breath (inhale and exhale).
Hiccups from spicy foods can be annoying, but they’re usually harmless, so there’s no reason to worry. Capsaicin is an irritant that can activate diaphragm neurons, leading to contractions that cause hiccups. While there’s no guaranteed way to prevent hiccups from spicy foods (aside from not eating spicy food — get real), there are home remedies you can try to shorten the bout. So next time you’re reaching for that extra hot sauce, you’ll better understand why you might experience a case of the hiccups!
- Gigot, A. F. (1952). TREATMENT OF HICCUPS. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 150(8), 760. doi:10.1001/jama.1952.03680080022004
- Lee, J. H., Kim, T. Y., Lee, H. W., Choi, Y. S., Moon, S. Y., & Cheong, Y. K. (2010). Treatment of intractable hiccups with an oral agent monotherapy of Baclofen -A case report-. The Korean Journal of Pain, 23(1), 42–45. https://doi.org/10.3344/kjp.2010.23.1.42
- Peleg, R., & Peleg, A. (2000). Case report: Sexual intercourse as potential treatment for intractable hiccups. Canadian Family Physician, 46, 1631–1632. Retrieved April 27, 2023, from https://www.cfp.ca/content/cfp/46/8/1631.full.pdf.
- Souadjian, J. V., & Cain, J. C. (1968). Intractable Hiccup. Postgraduate Medicine, 43(2), 72–77. doi:10.1080/00325481.1968.11693139
- Steger, M., Schneemann, M., & Fox, M. (2015). Systemic review: The pathogenesis and pharmacological treatment of hiccups. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 42(9), 1037–1050. https://doi.org/10.1111/apt.13374
- Turkyilmaz, A., & Eroglu, A. (2007). Use of baclofen in the treatment of esophageal stent-related hiccups. The Annals of Thoracic Surgery, 85(1), 328–330. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.athoracsur.2007.07.059