Hiccups can be embarrassing. They can occur unpredictably, for mysterious reasons.
An involuntary spasm of the diaphragm causes a sudden intake of air into the lungs. When this happens, the diaphragm pulls the glottis in the voice box closed and creates the familiar sound called a hiccup.
Doctors have some pretty extreme treatments for persistent hiccups. Major tranquilizers or anticonvulsants are sometimes prescribed. Rectal massage has also been recommended.
It’s hardly any wonder that people prefer to start with home remedies. A few weeks ago a reader of this column suggested eating one or two green olives to chase hiccups away: “I don’t know why it works, it just does. It stops them almost immediately. It even worked on a friend who had been through surgery and had suffered for three weeks until I gave him an olive.”
Although we have been collecting hiccup remedies for more than 30 years, we had never heard of green olives for this purpose. Readers wrote in to suggest some interesting possibilities:
“The little girl next door used to come for dill pickle juice when she had hiccups. It worked right away. I wonder if it is the vinegar in the olives that helps.”
Another reader had a similar thought: “I have been using vinegar as a remedy for hiccups for over 20 years. I know of no instance when a teaspoon of vinegar did not eliminate even the most stubborn case of hiccups. Usually I use white vinegar, but I have used balsamic and rice vinegar with success. I believe this answers the question of why green olives cure hiccups. It is not the olive but the vinegar in the brine!”
Vinegar is quite a popular hiccup remedy. Bartenders often have a remedy to recommend, partly because their customers have a lot of experience with this problem. Drinking alcohol, like swallowing hot peppers, can trigger a case of hiccups. Here is what one reader remembers:
“I’ve never read about an instant remedy for hiccups I got from a bartender years ago. He gave me a shot glass of a clear liquid and instructed me to ‘swig it, don’t sip it.’
“It gave instant results, so I asked what the liquid was. He said, ‘Pure white vinegar!’ I used it later with excellent results.”
Another reader dilutes the vinegar: “For an instant hiccup remedy, mix 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar in 1/3 cup water. Only one or two sips are needed to stop hiccups every time!”
Another bartender favorite is to sprinkle a few drops of Angostura bitters on a wedge of lemon and suck on the lemon. Like the ever-popular spoonful of sugar, this probably stimulates the phrenic nerve to reverse the spasm.
We heard of an entirely different approach from this woman: “I had a bad attack of the hiccups when my daughter was visiting recently. She suggested an unlikely cure she learned from a bartender. Just to keep the peace, I tried it and to my amazement it worked: Fill a glass with water. Cover with a clean handkerchief and drink the water through the handkerchief.”
Hiccups can be incredibly annoying, especially if they persist for more than a few minutes. If none of these simple remedies works, and hiccups last for hours or days, they could signal a serious problem and deserve medical attention.