Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Some Cures For The Hiccups

So you have the hiccups, and you'd like to get rid of them. Chances are, if you're out, that your companions will have advice to offer (hold your breath, drink backwards from a glass, etc.). But how can you know which folksy cure works best? Science.

Most studies on curing hiccups employ hedging words like "probably" and "might" as a means of reporting that there is "no sure way" of stopping the things. But sift through enough of them and you'll get some insight into what's going on in your body when you have a case of hiccups, which "may" in turn help you find your own personal fix. So, the basics. A hiccup is a surprise spasm that shrinks your diaphragm and pulls your lungs down. This causes a sudden inhale that your vocal cords quickly block. It's a reflex—likely triggered by one of two causes: either one of several nerves has been jolted, or your stomach has expanded too far because you've swallowed too much air (say, after wolfing down a meal or downing a drink), which results in too little carbon dioxide in your blood.

There are two means of stopping hiccups then. The first is to present your nerves with something else to react to; the second is to try to increase the amount of CO2 in your blood.

Tricking Your Nerves
As a woman on Dr. Oz's website so enthusiastically demonstrated, being scared might just shake you of hiccups. As Dr. David Eibling explains in the Expert Guide to Otolaryngology, your startle reflex may "override" your hiccups reflex. So after the scare, your nerves start fresh and won't keep sending the message to hiccup.

You could also prompt other reflexes for the same effect. For example, you could put a teaspoon of sugar on the back of your tongue to get to the nerve endings there (if you're at a bar and can't get no suga', try a lemon wedge), or wiggle your ear to activate its nerve endings.

You could also press a tongue depressor or a long cotton swab to the soft part of the roof of your mouth to trigger a gag reflex (you always bring depressors and swabs along with you to the bars, don't you? Don't you?). Discovery Health calls this "tickling" (I call it gagging), although they do say you could also have someone tickle you in the normal fashion too—either way, I'm sure you could turn this into foreplay. (Seriously.)

If you aren't feeling playful, you could also try to soothe the nerves. One method: Take a long swig of water—being careful as you do that you don't gulp in too much air (which is probably why the elementary school cure of sucking on a water fountain's stream usually doesn't work). Dr. Oz recommends drinking the water upside down (read: lurched over). Discovery Health also suggests taking a tablet or two of an antacid with magnesium, which helps with the nerve irritation and you can do right-side-up.

Increasing Your CO2
To up your sanguineous carbon dioxide, hold your breath. You can count to some high number while doing it. You could also plug your nose and jump on one foot, as Dr. Oz advocates. Or, to the same effect, you could repeatedly breathe into a paper bag, sucking back in carbon dioxide. Or you could close your mouth, pinch your nose and try hard to exhale (if you're at a bar and are trying to get some suga' from a medical-type, refer to this as the "Valsalva maneuver").

If these don't work, you may not be convinced enough you'll succeed to induce a potential placebo effect, so you should "probably" just wait it out, as most cases fix themselves. But if you keep hiccupping for days, months or 68 years, go see a doctor and get them to talk to you in normal human speak.

Nate Hopper is a summer Awl reporter.

28 Comments / Post A Comment

becky@twitter (#14,213)

over a sink, drink from the opposite lip of the cup.

IBentMyWookie (#133)

@becky@twitter Works without fail for me.

I just take many small sips of water (10 seems to do it). Works every time and you can do it standing up.

tiny dancer (#1,774)

The trick I learned from watching Growing Pains works every single time: hold breath for 10 seconds without hiccuping and then swallow three times.

frontsidebus (#5,387)

@tiny dancer A similar method is to take small sips (without gulping air) of water, swallowing as many times as possible without hiccuping or breathing. Works every time. Also, eating a spoonful of peanut butter works!

What really amazes me is when people have no idea how to do anything about their hiccups other than wait for them to go away on their own. Like you'll be out at a bar and someone will just sit there hiccuping away. It drives me insane and makes me think they probably have horrible parents!

@tiny dancer I always advise a similar method – swallow five times in a row, as fast as you can. No water, just swallow nothing. Works every time.

SeanP (#4,058)

@frontsidebus I don't get that either. Mine don't just "go away" on their own – they go on and on to the point of being painful. Holding my breath doesn't typically work either – I need the long, slow drink of water method.

A friend of mine used to swear by getting punched in the stomach to get rid of drinking-induced hiccups. We usually fought over the privilege of administering his particular cure, since by the time he was drunk enough to get the hiccups, he was also drunk enough to be really obnoxious.

jfruh (#713)

Has nobody mentioned the one sure-fire cure? MASTURBATION, for reals.

Maud Newton (#600)

@jfruh Oh my God, seriously? I can't think of anything I would less like to do while hiccuping!

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

Yes, I find that placing a lemon wedge on the back of my tongue while suffering from the hiccups does the trick by choking me to death.

BadUncle (#153)

@SidAndFinancy Combine it with masturbation for an excellent celebrity death.

riggssm (#760)

@BadUncle Poor David Carridine.

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

@BadUncle Stars, they're just like us!

BadUncle (#153)

My method involves props, ritual and timing, and works without fail.

1) Have a fiend stand behind you and plug your ears with his / her fingers.

2) Take a deep breath.

3) Slowly sip a glass of water to a count of 20.

4) Inspect your friend's fingers for signs of earwigs.

Bittersweet (#765)

@BadUncle: You forgot the part where the friend needs to put a paper bag over his/her head.

Smitros (#5,315)

I've had good with doing The Hundred, the Ur-core conditioning exercise. It seems to straighten out the diaphragm or something.

interocitor (#15,221)

Forcing myself to cough looks/sounds ridiculous, but works every single time.

TheLazySunbather (#15,345)

A small glass of water with five or so dashes of angostura bitters, drunk not leisurely. While anecdotal, each of the few times I've insisted on the effectiveness of this cure to currently-suffering friends it has worked.


Maud Newton (#600)

Only thing that ever works for me: a heaping spoonful of sugar on the tongue. I was told to let it sit there and dissolve on its own — no swallowing, just a slow trickle — but there seems to be some debate about this. Supposedly the sugar remedy was once published in the New England Journal of Medicine (though I haven't verified that).

anthropomo (#10,734)


Breath deeply and repeat to yourself, "I am not the sort of person who has hiccups."

It is vital that you begin this mantra before your second hiccup. After your second hiccup you are the sort of person who has hiccups.

meliz (#15,566)

so there's THIS published medical report…

"Termination of Intractable Hiccups with Digital Rectal Massage"

which one might say raises as many questions as it answers…

fb1752235846 (#15,659)

I heard a guy on the radio with this trick. It usually works.

Put a pencil between your teeth, then take a sip of water and swallow, without removing the pencil.

It can be a little messy. Plan accordingly.

Something about tickleing the vagus nerve.

overthathill (#12,696)

My grandmother's never-fail remedy: put a butter knife ("sharp" side down) in a glass of water and drink from it, making sure that the knife handle touches your cheek. But DO NOT try to figure out how or why this works. It just does. It's magic, and if you question it or look into it too hard, it won't do you any good.

Bitters and sugar on lemons also works pretty well.

traitorjoe (#15,858)

@overthathill this is what i do and it works every time!

Ahhhh – nice. Here are some cures for hiccups that we came up with

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