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Science Made Simple
by TaLonne Mefford
     

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How do I hiccup?

“Hic!” “Hic!” You’ve just hiccupped for what seems like the hundredth time in a row. Ever wonder where those hiccups come from? You can blame your diaphragm, a dome-shaped muscle at the bottom of your chest below your lungs.

When you inhale, the diaphragm pulls down to help more air enter your lungs. When you exhale, it pushes up to help push the air out of your lungs. Sometimes, the diaphragm just does not work in the way it should.

You have probably felt a muscle spasm in your arm or leg, where the muscle twitches without you doing anything. The same thing can happen to your diaphragm. When it twitches, it causes a quick intake of breath. This breath is stopped by the vocal cords in your throat. This makes the hiccup sound.

The diaphragm can twitch for a variety of reasons. One of the main causes is a full stomach. Eating too much food too fast, drinking too quickly, or swallowing too much air can make your stomach too full, and cause hiccups. In most cases, hiccups go away on their own in a few minutes.

 

What happens when I sneeze?

A sneeze is a reflex that clears the nose of irritants, including viruses, bacteria, and pollutants. Every time you breathe in through your nose, thousands of tiny particles enter your nose. Many of these particles are stopped by the hairs in your nose. If the particles make it past those, shelf-like structures, called turbinates, help to trap some of those particles.

A sneeze begins when the inside of your nose is irritated by some of those particles. Tiny nerves signal the “sneeze center” in the brain. The brain signals the muscles in the chest and throat to contract, the eyes to shut, and the roof of the mouth to close. Powered by contractions in the chest and throat, the sneeze exits through the nose, clearing the nasal cavity. Saliva spews from the mouth and mucus from the nose. A sneeze can send thousands of particles into the air at 100 miles per hour.

Some people, like me, sneeze if they step out into bright sunlight. These people are called photic sneezers. The bright sunlight causes a misfire in the nerves in the nose sending a signal to the “sneeze center” when it is not needed.

One interesting fact about sneezes is the saying “bless you” after someone sneezes. This started in the year 590 by Pope Gregory I. This blessing was a response to the outbreak of the bubonic plague. At the time, sneezing was thought to be an early symptom of the plague, so people began the blessing for others affected by the plague.

 

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