Was it in algebra class, while you stood in front of the class at the blackboard solving a complicated problem? Your stomach decided it was just the right time for a long, low growl.
How about that time in the theater, when a master blast from your intestines broke the silence?
Then there was that memorable moment in the lunchroom when a run of hiccups took on a life of its own.
By the way, did you play the starring role in a movie called “Burps in the Library, Part III”?
Yes, we’ve all been there. You could compose a symphony from all the different sounds our bodies make–and what unusual music it would be! Besides a rumbling stomach, intestinal gas, hiccups, and burps, there are sneezes and creaky joints.
Even though this “body language” is universal, it’s still embarrassing when it happens to you. You can’t predict when it’s going to happen, and often you can’t prevent it. Maybe it would help if you understood why and how these sounds happen.
An Attack of Hiccups
Most attacks of hiccups are over in a few minutes, or a few hours at most. But some rare cases have lasted days–even years. The record is held by a man in Iowa who has been hiccuping since 1922! (He was still alive in 1988, and if he’s alive today, he’s probably still hiccuping.)
A hiccup begins with a group of nerves that lie at the upper end of the spinal cord. When these nerves are stimulated, they tell the diaphragm–a strong sheet of muscle at the bottom of the ribs–to contract. Normally, the diaphragm moves up and down in time with the air that passes in and out of your lungs. When you hiccup, the diaphragm jerks and causes the vocal cords to make a clicking sound.
Hiccups often begin for no particular reason, but there are certain things that can trigger an attack: drinking carbonated beverages, exercising right after you eat, eating too much, eating too fast, eating spicy food, and eating or drinking something hot or cold. Emotional stress can also bring on hiccups.
Everyone has a favorite home remedy for “curing” hiccups. Some people hold their breath, have someone try to scare them, or eat a spoonful of sugar. Others suck on a piece of hard candy, drink water out of the wrong side of a glass, or even stand on their head.
The only remedy that has any scientific basis is breathing into a paper bag for a few minutes. This causes the blood to absorb carbon dioxide, which then travels to the brain and relieves the hiccups.
Here’s an interesting, little-known fact: Men have hiccups four times more often than women. Nobody knows why–it’s just one of life’s little mysteries.
Gas in the System
Usually considered the “rude” sounds, belches and flatulence just indicate that there is excess gas in the digestive system. The gas has to work its way out somehow. When there’s too much gas in the stomach, it comes out as a belch or burp. Excess gas in the intestines escapes through the rectum as flatulence.
Some people produce more gas than others. People who do not have the enzyme that is needed to digest dairy products often have flatulence. You may avoid gas if you stay away from gas-producing foods such as beans, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, pickles, onions, carbonated drinks, and bran. Another interesting fact: The sorbitol, a sugar substitute in some sugarless chewing gum, can cause gas.
How you eat is as important as what you eat if you’re trying to prevent gas from forming. When you gulp your food quickly or slurp drinks through a straw, you swallow air. Breathing through your mouth instead of your nose has the same result.
Light exercise after a meal (taking a walk, for example) will help move gas through the intestines and out of your system.
The noises your stomach and intestines make as they work are called borborygmi (bor-b*-rig-me). These rumbles and gurgles are the sounds of the stomach’s three layers of muscle contracting as they mix food with the enzymes and acids of digestion.
These sounds can occur even when your stomach is empty. When you’re sitting in your last class before lunch, thinking about food or smelling the aromas from the cafeteria, your stomach begins to get ready for a meal by pouring out digestive juices. The sound of these churning juices announces your hunger to the world. Pressing your arm against your stomach can sometimes muffle the sound a bit.
Do you sneeze through your mouth or your nose? Are your sneezes quiet and dainty, or a blast to shake the earth? Does sunlight make you sneeze? How many times in a row do you sneeze?
There is usually a pattern to sneezing, and it varies from person to person. Sneezes are the body’s way of cleaning house. They are caused by something that irritates the nose–an infection such as a cold, or an allergy to something such as dust, cat hair, smoke, or hay. This irritation stimulates a nerve in the nose, which sends a message to the brain. The brain coordinates all the movements necessary for a sneeze that will force the irritant out of the breathing passages–at speeds up to 100 miles per hour!
Since sneezes serve a useful purpose, it isn’t a good idea to suppress them. If you must cut short a long string of sneezes, press your finger firmly against your upper lip, at the base of your nose. Sometimes it works.
You don’t have to be a tin man to make creaking sounds when you move. The popping sounds sometimes heard in knuckles and knees are air bubbles moving around in the sticky fluid that surrounds the joints. Ankles make a cracking sound when the tendons and ligaments that connect the bones snap as they move across the ends of the bones. None of these sounds indicate that anything is wrong, as long as there is no pain. And there is no truth to the myth that cracking a knuckle will cause problems in that joint. (It can cause a different problem, though, if it bugs your teachers and parents.)
Now that you understand what your body is saying, it shouldn’t be such a foreign “language.”