Hiccups, nosebleeds and the occasional twitch or shiver — they're annoying, embarrassing, all too common and rarely serious enough to warrant a trip to the doctor.
Every now and then, they can indicate something serious, though. How can you tell the difference? Before you go to the doctor, what home remedies are safe? We consulted several experts on staff at Baylor Regional Medical Center at Plano, Texas.
Hiccups are involuntary, intermittent, spasmodic contractions of the diaphragm, followed by a sudden closure of the epiglottis (the cartilage protecting the vocal cords). They have no known function.
Types: Hiccups are defined by how long they last: Transient hiccups can last 48 hours; persistent hiccups can last 48 hours to 30 days; intractable hiccups can last for more than two months.
Common causes: Anything that irritates the stomach and esophagus.
Rare causes: Head trauma, stroke, meningitis, general anesthesia, gastric distention, acid reflux and laryngitis. They also might be symptomatic of a serious condition involving the respiratory system, nervous system, metabolism or certain tumors and cancers.
When should you call the doctor? When you have persistent or intractable hiccups.
Home cures: Largely anecdotal, cures usually involve altering your breathing patterns by breathing into a bag; holding your breath; drinking a glass of water; swallowing a teaspoon of sugar, peanut butter or vinegar; drinking from the opposite side of a glass; fright; and the Valsalva maneuver (closing your mouth, pinching your nose and forcibly exhaling).
Medical cures: Muscle relaxants, anti-convulsants, anti-spasmodics, anti psychotics, antidepressants and massage of the carotid sinus in the neck.
Nosebleeds are the loss of blood from the tissue lining the nose.
Common cause: Dryness of the nose that leads to cracking of the mucous membranes..
Additional causes: Direct injury, colds, blowing the nose, allergies, sinusitis, upper respiratory infection, chemical irritants, blood thinners and overuse of decongestant nasal sprays.
Less common cause: Deviated septum. The septum is a vertical wall of cartilage and bone that separates the two sides of the nose. A deviation in the septum causes abnormal airflow through the nose.
When should you call the doctor? When you have severe blood loss, nasal obstruction, pain, a nosebleed that doesn't stop after 20 minutes or a nosebleed after an injury to the head.
Home cures: Elevate your head, apply cold compresses or ice across the bridge of your nose and pinch the soft portion of your nose between your thumb and finger for 10 minutes. Use saline sprays for at least a week to add moisture. A vaporizer or humidifier in the room can help.
Medical cures: Cauterizing or closing the blood vessels using heat, electric current or silver nitrate sticks. Some doctors recommend oxymetazoline (Afrin) nasal spray or QuikClot for home use. Consult your doctor before using QuikClot.
Twitches and shivers
Twitching is caused by a minor muscle contraction or uncontrollable twitching of a muscle group served by a single motor nerve fiber. Shivering is a diffuse body movement manifested by an alteration of muscle tone.
What causes them: Eye twitching can be caused by dry eye, which can come from staring at a computer screen all day. Twitches in the calves and fingers are common, too, and can be caused by repetitive, strenuous actions such as keyboarding or certain sports.
Shivering is usually the body's way to prevent heat loss, but it also can occur if you're excited or afraid. Shivering protects your body by tightening the arteries supplying the muscles, making the muscles tighten and loosen quickly to increase metabolism.
Less common causes: Twitches and shivers can be caused by diuretics (water pills), dietary deficiencies, excessive stress or anxiety, insomnia, medication, infection, multiple sclerosis or seizures.
When should you call the doctor? When you have long-term or persistent muscle twitches or shivering.
Home cures: Stretching, massaging and resting the muscles that are twitching. Stay warm if you're shivering.
Medical cures: For eye twitches, a shot of Botox can calm the eye muscle; for shivering, medical remedies will help only if blood tests determine a medical condition.