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Will Your Hiccups Go Away If You Reach and Sip?

Do you have a remedy to make hiccups go away? Drinking water plays a role in many remedies, but others call for a sharp flavor to do the trick.

Have you ever tried to make hiccups go away with a home remedy? There are dozens, at least! Some sound entirely plausible, while others appear quite improbable. They all have one thing in common: a fervent champion convinced that this is the one and only hiccup remedy that really works. Another thing they have in common: no scientific research on effectiveness. Nonetheless, we can each test for ourselves to find our own favorite home remedy.

Banishing Hiccups in the Library:

Q. I know that you appreciate home remedies for hiccups. I have one that “works every time.”

I retired from my position as high school librarian after 37 years. One time in the library, I was speaking to a colleague and got the hiccups. He said he knew how to get rid of them. I smiled, despite deep skepticism.

He proceeded to get a small glass of water and told me to put my arms out to the side (like an airplane). He held the paper cup for me and instructed me to begin to quickly take short sips of water until I felt the hiccups were gone. To my amazement, it worked.

Over the years, I used the same technique on students in the library who got the hiccups. They were just as skeptical as I had been. All the other students watched as they were thinking I was making a fool of myself and the student. They were flabbergasted when they saw that the procedure worked. If I remember correctly, it has never failed in school or at home.

A. Thank you for sharing an unusual technique. Many of the hiccup remedies we have encountered over the years involve drinking water. Presumably some of the effort needed to drink from the wrong side of the glass or while a partner holds your ears closed stops the repeated involuntary contractions of the diaphragm. Another remedy, reaching up with the left arm while drinking water, might work in a similar way to your airplane technique.

Will Gargling Get Rid of Hiccups?

Q. One night as I was preparing for bed, I suddenly got hiccups. I had just finished brushing my teeth and was about to gargle, so I went ahead and gargled. Surprisingly, I didn’t have any more hiccups!

I’ve had hiccups several times since then, and have discovered that a quick gargle with water absolutely stops them. This is my all-time favorite remedy now.

A. Thank you for sharing this intriguing story. It actually makes some scientific sense, since stimulating the nerves in the roof of the mouth with a teaspoon of granulated sugar has been a time-tested remedy for hiccups.

The physician who submitted this small study wrote, “…one teaspoonful of ordinary white granulated sugar swallowed dry resulted in immediate cessation of hiccups in 19 of 20 patients” (New England Journal of Medicine, Dec. 23, 1971).  Twelve of his patients had their hiccups for longer than six hours. Others suffered even longer.

We suspect that gargling and dry sugar both stimulate the phrenic nerve which controls the diaphragm. When the diaphragm spasms, it causes the intake of air and the hiccup sound.

We do have one caution about gargling, however. If you are gargling at the same time that you are hiccupping, you might aspirate water. That would not be good for your lungs.

How Can You Make Hiccups Go Away?

Q. I’ve suffered with hiccups all my life. (I’m in my late 50s.)

The only remedy that really works is one I learned from a friend about six years ago. Raise your left arm straight over your head while drinking a glass of water.

Can you tell me why this works? I’m guessing it has to do with the stretching motion expanding or opening up the diaphragm.

What Are Hiccups?

A. Hiccups are heard when the diaphragm repeatedly contracts involuntarily and the vocal cords close immediately after each contraction. There are many triggers, including a large meal, hot peppers, alcohol, carbonated beverages and anesthesia. A number of serious health conditions can also set off hard-to-treat hiccups. That’s why persistent hiccups (beyond two days) should be brought to a doctor’s attention.

Reach and Sip to Make Hiccups Go Away:

We have been collecting hiccup remedies for over 40 years. We suspect that many work by stimulating nerves in the mouth and throat. This in turn might interrupt the muscular contraction. Reaching up with the left arm while drinking water may help stimulate the vagus nerve much as swallowing a spoonful of sugar would. This is a time-honored remedy for hiccups (New England Journal of Medicine, Dec. 23, 1971).

One reader recently shared his go-to remedy:

“My method of stopping hiccups has never failed. Never. Put the handle of a spoon in a glass (made of glass) of water. While pressing the bottom (bowl) part of the spoon firmly against your forehead, slip the water with the handle in it very slowly. Guaranteed! (It might work in other than a glass glass, but I have not tried that.)”

What About Pickles or Olives to Make Hiccups Go Away?

Other remedies, such as sipping pickle juice or eating olives, might work by activating transient receptor potential (TRP) channels in this same pathway. The bartender’s standby, eating a lemon wedge with Angostura bitters on it, may also be working through a similar mechanism. Activating TRP channels can override and calm a misfiring nerve that is causing a muscle cramp. This approach may also be able to reverse the misfiring of the vagus nerve causing the diaphragm to contract when it should not.

Medically Approved Techniques to Stop Hiccups:

A recent article in The Atlantic summarizes medical research on how to make ordinary hiccups go away. One enterprising doctor has developed a special straw that creates pressure on the diaphragm that interrupts the positive feedback loop that keeps hiccups repeating. He calls it the HiccAway, technically a forced inspiration suction and swallow tool (FISST) (JAMA Network Open, June 18, 2021).

Another physician, Luc Morris, has developed a breathing technique to stop hiccups (not every time, but nearly every time). It needed a fancy name to be published in a medical journal, so he called it supra-supramaximal inspiration (Journal of Emergency Medicine, Nov. 2004). To try this technique, breathe out all the way, then take the deepest breath you can. Hold the breath for 10 seconds, then breathe in a little bit more. Hold that for another 5 seconds, then take one last teensy breath in (you haven’t breathed out this whole time) and hold that for 5 more seconds. Now at last, breathe out and start breathing normally. Stopping the diaphragm from moving for 20 seconds plus increasing the pressure on it seems to stop hiccups.

The doctors report that this breath technique worked for 16 out of 19 patients that tried it. Three of them couldn’t hold their breath that long. With fewer than 20 patients and no control group, this is hardly a study. On the other hand, doctors haven’t studied most of the other ways to make hiccups go away, either.

Learn More:

You can learn about many other hiccup remedies in our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies. If you are interested in TRP channels and how they can help alleviate muscle cramps, you may wish to listen to our interview with Dr. Bruce Bean, the Robert Winthrop Professor of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School. It is Show 1054: The Scientific Explanation for a Weird Remedy.

If you have a remedy that makes hiccups go away, please share it in the comment section below.

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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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