Hiccups are caused by a spasm in the diaphragm, the dome-shaped muscle that controls breathing. Though they can be annoying and may be frightening to young children, hiccups are generally not cause for concern. They do, however, pose some health risks such as choking and in rare cases may indicate an underlying medical concern.
The biggest risk posed by hiccups is choking. Young children are at an especially high risk of choking during a diaphragm spasm, so children experiencing hiccups should stop eating until the hiccups go away.
Hiccups normally last a few minutes to a few hours, but in some cases may last longer. A single hiccup session that lasts for more than 24 hours can interfere with sleeping, eating and breathing. Consult your child's pediatrician if he has been hiccuping for an extended period of time. Recurrent hiccups, which are hiccups that come back every few days or every few hours, however, do not pose the same sorts of risks as extended hiccups.
In infants and toddlers, gas can sometimes cause a spasm in the diaphragm leading to hiccups. They may also produce sounds that sounds like hiccups. Burp your baby to reduce gas. Holding your baby face down on her stomach in mid-air can also help to lessen the pain and side effects of gas. Older children may experience hiccups when they eat too much or too quickly or as a result of drinking carbonated beverages.
Anxiety may cause muscle spasms, including spasms of the diaphragm. Recurring hiccups may be a sign of underlying emotional distress. If your child has recently experienced a major life change such as a parents' divorce, change in school or death of a loved one, the hiccups may be a result of tension and fear.
In extremely rare cases, hiccups may indicate an underlying health problem. Neurological problems including strokes, as well as problems with the body's endocrine system and kidneys, can cause recurrent hiccups. An injury to the lungs or diaphragm may also cause persistent hiccups. Children are generally at a lower risk for these conditions than adults, however. If your child has several extended hiccup sessions every day for more than a week, contact your pediatrician.