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Home Remedies Offer Relief from Hiccups

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. Somewhat surprisingly, doctors often recommend home remedies when someone needs relief from hiccups.

They 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). We have heard from many readers who have found this approach useful. Others have shared their own hiccup remedies.

Can Home Remedies Really Provide Relief from Hiccups?

Q. A long time ago, I heard a short piece on hiccups and a cure on NPR. All I remember is that there’s some scientific evidence linking nerves in the roof of the mouth to the trigger for hiccups. The main point was you could use the back of a spoon to put moderate, consistent pressure on the soft palate to relieve hiccups.

It does work, at least for me. I have never again heard or seen this cure written up. Did I dream it?

A. You didn’t dream it. Thanks for pointing us to a delightful interview Scott Simon conducted with Beatrice Golomb, MD, PhD, on NPR in 2004.  In it, she describes a variety of ways people could stimulate the nerves in the roof of the mouth, including the spoon approach you mention. (She suggests a cold spoon might be most effective.) Such stimulation appears to interrupt the reflex and offer relief from hiccups.

What Can You Do for Persistent Hiccups?

Q. I have had hiccups almost constantly for six months. I went to a gastroenterologist about this problem, and he prescribed omeprazole. It isn’t helping, however. Do you have any other suggestions?

A. Persistent hiccups can certainly be a problem. We trust the doctor ruled out any serious condition underlying your hiccups. We could find no well-controlled studies demonstrating that omeprazole (Prilosec) or any other acid-suppressing drug would work for chronic hiccups.

Long-lasting hiccups are thought to be the result of nerve irritation. Although home remedies are not well studied either, some may work through counter-irritation of the vagus nerve.

One reader offered this suggestion:

“Bite into a lime or lemon wedge. This is an old bar secret.”

Another bartender’s secret is “A spoonful of Angostura bitters all at once.”

A reader who also had a long-lasting problem shared this:

“I had a bout of the hiccups for a couple weeks straight. It was a nightmare! I ended up going to a doctor who put a tube down my nose to let out trapped air in my stomach. Besides that, swallowing a teaspoon of sugar helps and so does this: have somebody cover your ears while you drink a glass of water.”

This last technique works best if the person presses on the little flap at the front of the ear called the tragus.

Here is a similar story from a reader who had persistent hiccups:

“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.”

Other readers have found benefit from a sip of pickle juice, an olive or a bit of vinegar. Presumably the shock of the sharp flavor helps stimulate the nerves in the mouth and calm the reflex.

Unusual Ways to Get Relief from Hiccups:

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.

If hiccups persist for a long time, the victim should consult a doctor. In rare cases, hiccups are a symptom of something more serious.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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