We have been collecting hiccup remedies for 40 years. We thought we had heard of all of them, from swallowing a teaspoon of granulated sugar to breathing into a paper bag. But recently we heard about an unusual approach–a completely unanticipated question. While we hadn’t encountered that one before, another reader had. Here’s the story:
Success With an Unexpected Question:
Q. If you are not totally bored with home remedies for hiccups, I would like to share my story. I have had great success with the “unexpected question” cure you described recently.
I stopped one coworker’s hiccups by asking if he knew “Jane” was pregnant. He knew three Janes, one of which was his girlfriend. None of them were pregnant but his hiccups immediately disappeared as he focused on figuring out the possible outcomes of that situation!
Another coworker was cured when I walked over to tell her that her mother was calling for her on the customer service line. She was so confused as to why her mother would contact her that way that she forgot to hiccup! The difficulty lies in finding appropriately confusing or distracting questions.
A. We admire your ingenuity! There’s no explanation we know for why this strategy might work, but others have reported similar success. When we asked for examples, we heard from a teacher.
Squelching Hiccups in School:
Q. You asked for anecdotal experiences using surprise as a remedy for hiccups. I taught high school and middle school for over 32 years. During this time, students would often get hiccups in class. I had a sure cure.
Sternly, I would look at the student and say, “You are disrupting the class! I am going to write a detention for you.” Some of the class would be horrified and come to the offender’s defense. Others would just smile because they knew me.
The affected student would look at me in terror and, like magic, the hiccups stopped.
I used this technique for years with success. In fact, some of my students still remember me doing this. So, yes, surprise works.
A. We still do not know why this tactic can stop hiccups. Our best guess is that a jolt of adrenaline might interrupt the nerve misfiring that leads to the hiccup reflex. Most remedies for hiccups activate the vagus nerve (Frontiers in Neuroscience, July 16, 2020). Perhaps that is also how your surprise tactic works.
Other Remedies That Work:
Tim in Fishers, IN, suggests an unusual posture for swallowing:
“My cure for hiccups: I got this remedy a long time ago from a very old man in a bar, and he got it from his grandmother.
“You take a 1/4 cup of any liquid in your mouth. Stand up and bend over with your head as close to your knees as possible and drink it down. Bam! The hiccups are gone! I have tried this on many people besides myself and it works. I think the water pushes all the air out and down to the stomach.”
Sniffing Peanut Butter as a Hiccup Remedy:
Q. My daughter, who is 12 years old, has been using your remedy for hiccups. She was taking a spoonful of peanut butter and that successfully stopped her hiccups.
Now she claims she only has to open the jar and the SMELL of peanut butter stops the hiccups! We think that is pretty cool. What do you think?
A. It seems your daughter has successfully associated the smell of peanut butter with the nerve stimulation that stops hiccups. She is very smart. This is a safer way of handling hiccups, since some people choke on a spoonful of peanut butter. We have been taken to task for recommending the peanut butter remedy because of this potential risk.
Other Surprising Remedies for Hiccups:
Some other remedies have taken us by surprise.
One reader offered this:
“Hold a pencil in your mouth like a horse’s bit. With the pencil still in your mouth take a couple of gulps of water and try to swallow. I have tried this many times and it works!”
Currant Jelly for Post-Surgical Hiccups:
Another suggested a home remedy that was used for life-threatening post-surgical hiccups:
“Please take this home remedy seriously, as it could help many people with hiccups. After major surgery my husband almost died from severe hiccups. They were draining all his strength.
“A doctor recommended placing currant jelly under the tongue. Within seconds my husband was free from hiccups. They returned periodically and the jelly never failed to work.”
Acupuncture as a Hiccup Remedy:
A meta-analysis of five randomized controlled trials found that acupuncture may stop post-stroke hiccups quickly (Yue et al, Acupuncture in Medicine, March 2017). Randomized controlled trials of hiccup remedies are rare. These authors called for more and higher-quality studies of this approach.
A Hiccup Remedy That Needs a Helper:
Some hiccup cures require an accomplice, as this one does:
“Here’s a hiccup cure that I’ve used all my life and passed on to my kids: Have someone stand behind you and pull straight up on your ears while you take sips of water. I do this by myself by taking a mouthful of water and swallowing it in small amounts while pulling up on my ears. No kidding, it works every time!”
We ourselves often use a variant of this remedy. Instead of having the assistant pull up on your ears, have them push on the tragus, the little flap at the ear opening. This too works astonishingly well.
A Sip or Two of Vinegar-Laced Water:
Q. For an instantaneous, universal hiccup remedy that has never failed: 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar to 1/ 3 cup water (or less). This is the proportion I use (and have given out to innumerable people).
In truth, only one or two sips is necessary to stop the hiccups immediately every time!
A. We have been collecting hiccup remedies for more than 50 years. We suspect that the vinegar you are adding to the water stimulates transient receptor potential (TRP) channels in the mouth. Activating these receptors overwhelms the muscle contractions that lead to hiccups.
We suspect that this mechanism explains why your apple cider vinegar remedy can stop hiccups so quickly. Many people say that a sip or two of pickle juice also can reverse hiccups. Others insist that munching an olive will accomplish the goal as well. All of these remedies involve vinegar in some form and probably all work in the same way.
Not all remedies are beloved by everyone in the family:
“I wanted to tell you about my hiccup remedy that I have used since I was a kid. I don’t remember how I got started with this, but I think I just tried it on my own and it worked. Whenever I get the hiccups, I just swallow a teaspoon full of vinegar. My husband thinks it’s disgusting, but it always seems to work. I usually use apple cider vinegar, but it would be interesting to try a milder type, such as rice wine vinegar and see if it works!”
Some people use olives instead of plain vinegar. Both may work by triggering the transient receptor potential (TRP) channels on nerves.
Chocolate Chips Triumph:
One of our favorite hiccup remedies: a few chocolate chips. Others have reported that several spoons full of chocolate-chip mint ice cream does the trick.
Do you love reading about such remedies? If so, you are likely to enjoy our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies: Q&As for Your Common Ailments. You will find lots of other hiccup remedies along with hundreds of simple solutions to everyday health problems.
And if you have a favorite or unusual hiccup remedy, please tell us about it in the section below for your thoughts.