Hiccups. Everyone has a cure, and everyone insists theirs is the best.
But when they try to pass it along to others, the home remedy can be hit or miss.
For something that impacts almost everyone, there are some surprisingly large gaps in information about hiccups, said Dr. Ali Seifi, director of the Neuro-ICU and an associate professor in the department of neurosurgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
What we do know is that hiccups are sudden spasms of the diaphragm muscle near the stomach, Seifi said. They send a message to your brain to close a flap in your throat again and again – hence the “hic” sound.
The “up” comes from the release of the pressure when the flap opens up, said Dr. Mark Fox, a professor of gastroenterology at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.
There are few concrete medical cures for the hiccups, but experts know that stopping them ideally involves the diaphragm, the vagus nerve and the phrenic nerve.
Fortunately, many of the remedies you use at home target these areas. Readers sent us their surefire tactics to attack hiccups, and experts weighed in on whether the science backs them up.
• Taking a deep breath while titling your head back and holding it
• Breathe in as much as you can, gulp air, hold it and breathe out until you can’t any longer
• Hold your breath and gulp when you feel a hiccup coming on
As silly as holding your breath or gulping down air may sound, these methods are scientific, Seifi said.
“Anything with intense breathing in, out, holding breath means activity of diaphragm muscle… it means activity of the phrenic nerve,” Seifi said. By activating those, you can “trick the phrenic nerve and trick the diaphragm away from those intentional spasms called hiccups to make it forget about having spasm.”
“The more swallows, the longer the breath hold, or the stronger the stimulation, the better it may work (but the more unpleasant it will be),” said Fox in an email.
• Sip water while seated and bent over
• Drink water from the wrong side of the glass
• Drink water while plugging your ears
• Drink water while twirling the glass
• Drink 10 small sips of water without stopping
Any time drinking something is involved, you have a shot at curing your hiccups, Seifi said.
Swallowing also triggers the vagus nerve, which is connected to hiccups. Add in some surprisingly difficult tasks like standing on one leg, drinking upside down, or twirling the glass, and you also get the benefit of distracting your brain from the hiccups, he added.
Plugging your ears can also help by increasing the suction, Fox said.
• Eat a spoonful of sugar
• Eat a spoonful of peanut butter
• Suck on a lemon slice
Yes, these likely can work for you too, but for different reasons.
Citrus and acidic or sour things also activate the vagus nerve, which helps curb hiccups, Seifi said.
When it comes to a spoonful of sugar, as much as we would like the excuse to eat it for our “health,” it really isn’t about the sugar at all, he said.
Sugar – and peanut butter for that matter – don’t go down easy, they require suction to gradually send it down your throat. That forceful suction activates swallowing muscles and our good friend, the vagus nerve.
• Scaring them away
• Thinking about cows
• Naming seven men you know of who are bald
• Have someone demand that you hiccup
These certainly have no basis in science, right? Wrong.
Being scared is another trigger for the vagus nerve, and though cows and bald men have nothing to do with hiccups, they are asking you to put your concentration somewhere else, Seifi said.
That combination of concentration and distraction can help “reset the brain to stop the hiccups. It’s not exactly known how, but it may work,” Seifi said.
A … little off the wall
• You and the person with hiccups should extend your index fingers toward each other horizontally at a distance of 6 inches. Move fingers toward each other as slowly as possible until they are as close as they can be without touching
• Sticking a cotton swab of KY Jelly up your nose or down your throat and twirling
• Tip your head all the way back relaxing your jaw as you do so. Let your tongue fall into the back of your throat and breathe through your nose. Hold this position, very relaxed, for about a minute
These are quite unique, so Seifi and Fox took them one at a time.
There is no real scientific reason moving your index fingers specifically should work, but it might if it calls for enough concentration and distraction to complete, they said.
“It’s not about fingers, they probably could do their toe… yoga movements, stand on one leg,” Seifi said.
A cotton swab of KY Jelly? Well, the vagus nerve has a lot of access points in the nose and throat, and the lubricant can reduce irritation as you insert it. So, it may work, he added.
In theory, the last one could work because it triggers the back of the throat. But not only might it look silly – Seifi worries that a person using this method could choke and advised against it.
These cures may be very effective for some, but definitely not every time, Fox stressed.
“All of these tricks, they are hit and miss and the reason is they only either work on phrenic nerve or vagus nerve,” Seifi said. “If somebody has more harsh hiccups, they need to use both of the nerves or more vigorous maneuvers.”
If your hiccups last more than two days, that could be a symptom of another problem, and in those cases, Fox recommended people see their doctor, who may be able to prescribe medications to treat underlying causes.