How to Cure Hiccups

March 16, 2011 at 2:00 am 24 comments

By Kyle Kurpinski

A hiccup, or “synchronous diaphragmatic flutter,” is a rapid involuntary contraction of the diaphragm, which results in a large volume of air rushing abruptly into the lungs. This is typically accompanied by a “hic” sound as the airflow forces the vocal chords to suddenly close. The physiology of a hiccup is much like that of a knee jerk reflex (when a doctor taps your knee with that little hammer), but the hiccup reaction occurs within a few cranial nerves that extend between the neck/head and the chest. A bout of hiccups can be brought on by a number of different stimuli including prolonged laughing, eating too rapidly, various nervous system disorders, and even chemotherapy. But far more important than how or why we get the hiccups is how we can get rid of them.

I was astonished to discover just how many hiccup “cures” there are on the web. WikiHow has a particularly awesome article listing nearly 80 different methods for curing hiccups. My immediate reaction to this was, shouldn’t ONE be enough? Unfortunately, hiccups are not well understood and many of these home remedies may work for some people but not for others, so an extensive list of alternatives is not entirely unreasonable. What really astounded me, though, was the sheer variety of proposed treatments. Here’s a small sampling:

  • Drink a glass of water while upside down.
  • Cough or scream when you feel the next hiccup approaching. Repeat 3-4 times.
  • Suck on a lemon wedge topped with 4-5 drops of aromatic bitters.
  • Lean your head back and place a penny on your forehead. The hiccups will be gone after 1-3 more times.
  • Drink a half teaspoon of pickle juice every 7-10 seconds until the hiccups stop.
  • Alternate a spoonful of sugar with a sip of water until the hiccups are gone.

As a whole, these remedies have no unifying theme, and I while I haven’t personally tested all of them, I have to wonder if a placebo effect (or just a coincidental cessation) might have been the genesis of more than a few. I am also bothered by the use of the phrase “until the hiccups stop” in many of the treatments on the web. There are reported cases of hiccups (albeit rare ones) that lasted years. How much pickle juice might I expect to ingest before the costs begin to outweigh the potential benefits?

In my personal experience, the “cures” I tried never worked for me (including upside-down drinking and being startled by a friend), and I always resorted to the more apathetic method: waiting it out. That is, until recently. Several months ago, my girlfriend had a bout of hiccups and she decided to experiment with various improvised remedies. Most of her trials had no effect, but she eventually discovered a simple breathing pattern that eliminated her hiccups completely. Her method follows:

1) Take a deep breath through your nose. Fill your lungs as much as you can.
2) Hold the breath for 10 seconds.
3) Breathe out completely.
4) Repeat steps 1-3 once more.

The entire process takes less than 30 seconds, but I have used it at least five separate times now with amazing success (only one initial failure that was cured on a second attempt). While I can’t promise that it will work for everyone, it has worked for the few people I’ve shared it with so far, and it’s strikingly similar to some of the other “breathing methods” listed on the wikiHow site. In fact, a closer look at that article reveals something interesting: there are more than 10 methods devoted predominantly to breathing. Wikipedia provides some reasoning: a few researchers have theorized that hiccups may be an evolutionary remnant of amphibian breathing that is similar to gulping. More importantly, amphibian gulping is inhibited by high levels of CO2, and so are hiccups. When you consciously adjust your breathing using one of these remedies, not only are you taking more active control of your diaphragm, but you are also manipulating gas exchange in your lungs and blood. More simply, holding your breath is an easy way to increase physiological CO2.

There are also more than 15 methods listed on the wikiHow article that include some form of drinking. While these are far less likely to dramatically impact blood chemistry, they will alter your current breathing pattern, which may in turn help disrupt the involuntary reflex of your diaphragm during hiccuping. I can’t say for sure that the “pickle juice method” is complete nonsense, but I wonder if it might work just as well using plain water.

It’s hard to say exactly which methods will work for any one person, but at least a few of these cures appear to have some scientific rationale while many others seem rather arbitrary. Bottom line: next time you have the hiccups, I recommend trying any of the breathing or drinking methods before resorting to balancing a penny on your head. Good luck!

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Source: Wikipedia, wikiHow

Image: Cayusa (cc)

Entry filed under: Health and Beauty, ProTips. Tags: , .

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24 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jen  |  March 16, 2011 at 8:08 am

    Amphibian breathing, huh? Very interesting.

    Drinking water upside-down has always worked for me, as does swallowing water right-side-up, slowly, holding the water in mid-swallow as long as possible. I’m sure the reason these work has to do with breathing, but when I have hiccups I find it easier to hold my breath when I’m concentrating on something else (swallowing). The next time I’ve got hiccups and nothing to drink, I’ll definitely try your girlfriend’s remedy.

    Reply
  • 2. Kyle  |  March 16, 2011 at 10:52 am

    I’m interested to see how people react to this article since it seems like everyone has a different opinion about these remedies. I’m a little nervous that I’m going to cause an uproar in the pickle juice community :)

    Reply
    • 3. Jen  |  March 16, 2011 at 12:41 pm

      Ha! That method probably would work with water just as easily, but I imagine it’s much more fun to make people drink pickle juice as a remedy. ;)

      Reply
  • 4. sarahnsh  |  March 16, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    What I do to get rid of them is to drink water while holding my breath and I drink as much water as I possibly can without breathing. This seems to work almost every time. I’ve tried just holding my breath, but that doesn’t seem to work too well unless I drink the water with it. Go figure, right?

    Reply
  • 5. Dosco Jones  |  March 16, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    Controlled breathing works for me every time.

    Reply
  • 6. Darin  |  March 16, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    Drink a glass of Soda Pop. It works ever time!

    Reply
    • 7. Jen  |  March 16, 2011 at 2:39 pm

      Half the time, that’s what gives me hiccups in the first place!

      Reply
  • 8. Kyle  |  March 16, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    I probably should have mentioned this in the article, but the other thing that I like about the breathing methods is that they don’t require any tools or supplies. The instant I get my first hiccup, I take a deep breath and start my girlfriend’s breathing method, and I don’t have to worry about getting a glass of water or looking around for a spoonful of sugar.

    Reply
  • 9. Lily  |  March 16, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    It’s all about the breathing. When I was young & wanted to get out of class, I used to give myself the hiccups by essentially gulping down & swallowing a bunch of air repeatedly as fast as I could. When I got out of class, to wander around or grab a smoke or whatever, I would use my breathing to get rid of them too.

    Reply
  • 10. Alex  |  March 16, 2011 at 11:11 pm

    I never believed in these “cures” until a friend tried a unique one on me. Say for example that your friend has the hiccups. offer them $2 if they can do it again right now. They wont be able to. The amount of money you offer them needs to be sufficient for them to actually want it (fun way to see how expensive your friends taste is), standard bet size I guess. Anyway since learning this I now posses the power to cure anyone’s hiccups. Its never failed. But it doesn’t work on yourself obviously.

    Reply
  • 11. Julia  |  March 17, 2011 at 1:08 am

    breathing through a paper bag has always worked for me… My brother’s fifth grade teacher told him to try it, and the next time I got them, he told me to. It always seems to work, although I do not know why…

    Reply
  • 12. Nora  |  March 17, 2011 at 4:57 am

    Yup, holding your breath does it. I am (not even kidding here) hailed as some kind of hiccup curing wizard because I always teach that trick to people when they have hiccups.

    The only way in which it will not work is if you hold the air in your mouth as opposed to really forcing it into your chest. Holding the air way down in your lungs essentially makes your diaphragm unable to move, thus you can’t hiccup. Hold your breath for basically as long as you can, exhale and take another breath, and hold that one too. Your hiccups will be gone the vast majority of the time.

    Reply
    • 13. Kyle  |  March 17, 2011 at 11:15 am

      I’d love to get a physician’s opinion on this (I should really ask around, as I know a few). Since this is a neural reflex arc, I wonder how much you can “force” your muscles not move when your nerves are telling them to move. It’s basically equivalent to trying to hold your knee in place when a doctor taps it. This may be the explanation, or it may be the increased CO2, or it may be a combination. I’m just glad it works!

      Reply
  • 14. Jaclyn  |  March 17, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    the peanut butter method works for me every single time, without fail. although my method is to just eat a spoonful of peanut butter (not the method that’s on the wiki page linked in the article). my hiccups are gone instantly, no matter if they just started or if they’ve been going on for 20 minutes.

    if no peanut butter is available, i try some breathing techniques. they work, but not as instantly and not as reliably. at least, not for me.

    Reply
    • 15. Julianna  |  April 6, 2011 at 5:10 pm

      I do the same thing! Works every single time!

      Reply
  • 16. Ryan  |  March 18, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    I’m not sure why everyone is so intent on curing hiccups. When my wife gets the hiccups she makes a HILARIOUSLY loud “hiccccccuphhhhhhhfffffffffff” sound every time. It makes me laugh which makes her laugh which seems to propogate her hiccups. If I had my way, she’d hiccup all the time!!!! Please don’t share any of your cures with her! :-)

    Reply
  • 17. Dan  |  March 21, 2011 at 11:14 pm

    I worked as a Bartender for ten years, one of the tricks I learnt along the way was to get customers to put their hands behind their back and let me “feed” them a glass of water over the bar. 100% success rate!

    Reply
  • 18. Andrew  |  April 26, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    For the last 30 years, I have witnessed this method working on countless individuals in multiple countries with different backgrounds. Age, sex, etc has never mattered. My own mother used this on a patient about to undergo surgery because of uncontrolled hiccuping for 96 hours. The remedy worked and te surgery was cancelled. She is an OR nurse. My wife is also a physician and she has explained it this way: the negative pressure resets the involuntary spasm of the diaphragm. The method I refer to is simple:

    1) have someone covler your ear canals with pressure. Holding the little flap of skin at the base of your ear canal over the canal entrance works.
    2) take 10 swallows of water without stopping.
    3) slowly release the ear pressure.

    Reply
  • 19. jim kiene  |  May 5, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    Pickle juice worked perfectly for me.

    Reply
  • 20. thetop7  |  August 12, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    Ahhhh – nice. Here are some cures for hiccups that we came up with at The Top 7 – http://thetop7.net/2011/08/12/the-hiccups-cure/

    Reply
  • 21. Epistling  |  November 15, 2011 at 10:50 am

    orange juice does it for me and my family… small sips

    Reply
  • 22. Dr. Tobias  |  December 18, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    Eat a piece of chocolate

    Reply
  • 23. okeke chiemelu  |  June 1, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    thanks so much for your article.Had a bad bout of hiccups today after demonstrating how to do spirometry for children in my area.sipping water worked for some time and afterwards failed me completely.With my belly filed with water i tried your method and it worked perfectly. thanks

    Reply
  • 24. chriscp  |  September 24, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    Generally, holding my breath for what seems like forever (but I’m sure is less than 20 seconds) works for me. If it doesn’t take the first time, a second round almost always does.

    Reply

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