Hiccups (also, bizarrely, sometimes spelled hiccoughs) are my wife’s #1 pet peeve. She knows that her annoyance is irrational, but she can’t help it. I suspect she sees hiccups as a cousin to farting, belching, and other funny-yet-rude bodily functions. Unfortunately, I am a hiccup machine. Sometimes they hit me out of nowhere. Eating spicy food – which I seek out like an addict – never fails to give me loud, conversation-stopping hiccups. Needless to say, both of us know how to get rid of hiccups, and we can do the job in many different ways. None of them require drinking from the opposite side of the glass upside down.
The strategies used to get rid of hiccups focus on increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream, stimulating the vagus nerve (back, roof of your mouth), or changing your breathing pattern. What works for one person may not work for another, so you may to need try a few methods before you find your hiccup cure.
What are Hiccups?
So what are hiccups? Hiccups (also known as singultus) happen when your diaphragm – that smooth muscle separating your chest from your abdomen – contracts or spasms involuntarily. This causes a swift intake of air that is stopped suddenly by your vocal cords, which creates that classic, embarrassing hiccup sound.
What Causes Hiccups?
So what causes hiccups? Many doctors say agitating your phrenic nerves (nerves that stretch from your chest to your neck) causes hiccups. You can do this by eating too much or too quickly, drinking alcohol or carbonated beverages, swallowing air, or becoming emotionally stressed or excited. Some people have unique triggers. In rare cases, hiccups don’t go away. These hiccups are called intractable or chronic hiccups, and they may be a sign of an underlying illness.
Getting Rid of Hiccups
Hold your breath for ten seconds while reclining or lying down. This is my preferred method to get rid of hiccups, and it is certainly one of the most popular. It works so well that I’m not above slinking down in my seat at a crowded restaurant to use it. I generally hold my breath for a bit more than ten seconds… I’m not above killing a few brain cells to get the job done.
Massage the upper, back part of the roof of your mouth.It may sound strange, but I got this one from my doctor. It stimulates the vagus nerve, which will subdue diaphragm spasms and get rid of hiccups for most people. He advised using a cotton-tipped applicator (he actually said Q-tip, but I’m no corporate stooge). Sensitive gag reflex? Try pulling on your tongue, as this also stimulates the vagus nerve.
Drink a large glass of cold water quickly. This method will get rid of hiccups in a few ways. It gets your mind off your hiccups, it increases the carbon dioxide level in your blood, and the act of swallowing water lightly stimulates the vagus nerve. If this fails, try gargling ice water. At the very least, you’ll get hydrated.
Breathe into a paper bag for a minute or two. This method helps to get rid of hiccups by calming you down and disrupting your breathing pattern. It also alters the oxygen to carbon dioxide ratio in your blood stream, which can calm diaphragm spasms. I wouldn’t pull this trick in public or at work though; people will think you’ve got mental health problems.
Eat a spoonful of sugar. A 1971 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that eating a spoonful of sugar can help people in getting rid of hiccups. Simply place one teaspoon of sugar on the back of your tongue and enjoy. Sticky foods like peanut butter or honey are said to work in a similar fashion.
Persistent or Chronic Hiccups
Most of time, if you do nothing to get rid of hiccups they will go away within a few minutes to a few hours; however, if hiccups last for longer than a few hours (persistent or chronic hiccups), it’s time to visit the doctor, as it may be a sign of something more serious. Many cases of chronic hiccups have been cured with alternative therapies, especially hypnosis and acupuncture.