Hiccups are generally considered a minor annoyance. Almost everyone has experienced this involuntary spasm of the diaphragm. As air rushes in, the glottis in the voice box is pulled closed and creates the sound doctors call “singultus.”
A normal bout of hiccups doesn’t last very long, but it can be embarrassing. Home remedies are the usual treatment. Doctors have even written about hiccup remedies in the medical literature. One classic remedy, a spoonful of granulated sugar swallowed dry, was recommended in The New England Journal of Medicine (Dec. 23, 1971).
Readers of this column have offered dozens of other suggestions. Here is one favorite: “I hope you will publish this hiccup cure, as it never fails. I was tormented with hiccups for years. They were so loud they could be heard up the block.
“Once I was in a car with a friend for ten hours and hiccupped the whole time. He never believed I couldn’t help it. That ended our friendship.
“I tried sugar, scaring and other things; then in college I found something that has never failed. I never worry about hiccups anymore since I can always get rid of them.
“The simple solution is to drink water while standing up and holding the ears closed. After years of being helped with this, having a second person hold my ears, I realized I could do it myself. I hold my ears closed with my thumbs, and hold the water glass with the four fingers of each hand. (I like the solo method much better. It keeps me from spitting the water out in laughter, for one thing.)
“How much water is needed depends on how bad the hiccups are. One glass usually works. If not, a second will do it. I think only once in decades have I had to use a third glass.
“If there is only a water fountain and no glass, hold the water in your mouth, stand up and swallow while holding your ears, then repeat. Finding this cure was worth the price of my senior year college tuition. I learned it in nutrition class.”
Another reader commented on this: “The person who said to hold your ears closed and drink a glass of water didn’t go far enough. You also have to hold your nose closed as well. Doing all three, closing the ears and nose and drinking water, has never failed me.”
Bartenders are a common source of hiccup remedy recommendations: “A tablespoon or two of Angostura bitters taken all at once always cures my hiccups. A bartender told me about this many years ago!”
Bartenders have also offered their hiccupping patrons a wedge of lemon, a shot of white vinegar or a green olive.
Some readers have truly unusual hiccup cures. One woman reported: “My husband had hiccups for four days and finally went to the doctor when his ribs started to hurt. The doctor told him to use an enema suppository. The hiccups were gone within 24 hours.”
A man suggested this: “The one SURE fire way to cure hiccups really does work 100 percent of the time, and that is ejaculation. At the point of sexual climax, the hiccups stop instantly.”
Another fellow reported that he uses his CPAP machine (prescribed for sleep apnea) to get rid of hiccups within a few minutes.
A physician should be consulted about hiccups that persist for a long time. In rare cases, hiccups are a symptom of something more serious.