Hiccups are an annoying reflex that occurs when the diaphragm (the muscle wall between the chest and the abdomen) spasms involuntarily. Air suddenly rushing into the lungs causing the vocal cords to quickly close, thereby creating the “hic” noise. Hiccups may be triggered by certain foods, drinks, illnesses, or actions, but often occur and resolve spontaneously.
Scientists are not sure why we get the hiccups, and have conducted few studies to investigate the numerous home remedies suggested for hiccups. Although there is no sure way to get rid of hiccups, almost everyone has a favorite home remedy they are convinced is effective.
Most of the popular hiccup remedies presumably work by attempting to “distract” or stimulate the vagus nerve (which connects the brain to the abdomen) with another sensation. Others may work by interfering with the carbon dioxide levels in the blood, which also prompts the brain to focus on more important matters than hiccups.
In any event, most hiccup remedies take your mind off hiccupping, and some cynics think that in the time it takes for you to prepare and administer the remedy, the hiccups will have stopped on their own. Whatever the reason, many people swear by at least one of the following methods, not of which are well supported by scientific evidence:
- Slow Down:
The vagus nerve (which controls hiccupping) may be triggered by eating too fast and not carefully chewing your food, causing air to get caught between pieces of food.
- Don’t Overeat:
Many people get hiccups after eating a lot of food. Some specialists believe that hiccups are your body’s way of telling you to stop eating.
- Avoid Hot or Spicy Foods:
These foods often irritate your stomach lining and sometimes cause acid to leak into the esophagus, both of which can cause hiccups.
- Don’t Drink Excessive Amounts of Alcohol:
Alcohol, like spicy foods, irritates the lining of the esophagus and stomach. Also, big gulps of alcohol cause the esophagus to quickly expand, and also result in the swallowing of air. All of these factors can contribute to hiccups.
- Letting a spoonful of sugar dissolve on your tongue, tickling the roof of your mouth with a Q-tip, or sticking your fingers in your ears all stimulate branches of the vagus nerve, and the overload on other vagus nerve endings may put a stop to hiccups.
- Being startled may suddenly overwhelm the vagus nerve.
- Counting backwards from 100 requires concentration, which may divert your brain’s attention away from the hiccups.
- Drinking water while maintaining uncomfortable body positions, such as bending over a sink and turning your head upside down while drinking from the tap, may distract your brain from the hiccups.
- Briefly holding your breath, then swallowing the air a few times may disrupt the hiccup cycle. Sneezing may have a similar effect!
- Holding your breath for as long as you can, blowing up a balloon, or breathing into a paper bag increases the amount of carbon dioxide in your bloodstream. The theory behind such actions is that your brain will focus on getting rid of the carbon dioxide because your risk of passing out will have increased, and again, will shift its attention away from the hiccups.
- Suckling, which includes breastfeeding or sucking on a pacifier, often helps infants get rid of hiccups.
- Burping is also a common, often effective method, perhaps because the hiccup cycle is disrupted or the baby’s brain is “distracted.”
Cures for persistent hiccups, which last for a few days or more, are more thoroughly researched than quick home remedies because unlike a normal case of hiccups, persistent hiccups can have serious health implications. Oftentimes a careful, gentle massage or stimulation of the patient’s soft palate or carotid artery in the neck will stop the hiccupping. Medications are also available for the persistent cases of hiccups that are usually associated with other serious conditions. Most commonly used medications include
There is also some evidence to suggest that acupuncture might be effective for hiccups as well.
Doctors rarely view a case of hiccups as a serious matter, as most either go away on their own or are “cured” by home remedies. So if your own personal method seems to do the trick, stick with it!