Fortunately, hiccups are not a life-threatening condition and they will usually stop by themselves after a period of time. However, depending on where you are and what company you are in, you may want to get rid of hiccups fast, especially if you are trying to make an important speech or you have an important meeting.
The reasons why we experience hiccups vary from person to person. Just as there are many triggers for hiccups, so there are also many methods for ‘curing hiccups’ but not all of them will work for everyone.
This article will explore the many tried and tested methods that can help you to stop hiccups naturally.
What are Hiccups?
The medical term for hiccups is singultus and they are sometimes called hiccoughs. They occur when a trigger causes your diaphragm to unexpectedly contract and at the same time your larynx contracts. These two actions together cause the ‘hic’ sound and it is usually impossible to feel when they come, and they just seem to come ‘out of the blue.’
More often than not, hiccups will settle down by themselves and you can soon carry on your normal activities without that annoying ‘hic.’
However, hiccups can sometimes last longer than a few minutes and that is when they become a real nuisance. For example, imagine the frustration if you had a job that required you to speak publicly every day and you couldn’t get rid of hiccups!
Hiccups can also affect your sleep and everyday activities and as a result a lot of people are looking for ways to stop hiccups.
Hiccups can be divided into 3 types:
• Bout of hiccups. These can last for a few minutes up to 48 hours.
• Persistent hiccups. These last for more than 48 hours but no more than a few days.
• Intractable hiccups. These last for longer period of time and can be a sign of more serious underlying health issues.
Causes of Hiccups
There are many different reasons why we experience hiccups from time to time. Doctors agree that hiccups are gastrointestinal and involve the vagal and phrenic nerves. The vagal nerve is connected with our cough reflex and the phrenic nerve passes information to the diaphragm.
Hiccups can be caused by a number of factors, like:
• Eating food too fast
• Eating spicy foods
• Soda drinks
• Strong emotions like fear or excitement
• Sudden temperature changes
• Certain diseases
How to Prevent Hiccups
The best way to prevent hiccups is to avoid the things that cause hiccups and which could over-stimulate the intestinal system.
So, avoid eating too fast because then you gulp down air, which can result in hiccups. Also, avoid drinking too much alcohol, which can also bring on hiccups.
If sodas drinks cause you to hiccup, then avoid them (you actually want to avoid them anyway as it is a well established fact that drinking sugary carbonated drinks is not good for you).
Spicy food may be actually beneficial for your health and may even help you lose weight but you may want to limit its consumption if it is causing you hiccups.
But, if you already have a bout of hiccups, then how can you stop your hiccups and make them go away?
How to Get Rid of Hiccups
The Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology says that to cure hiccups, measures should be taken to disrupt a person’s breathing rhythm or stimulate the back of the throat and nasal passages.1
Many of the methods mentioned below for stopping hiccups are based on one or both of those two principles – to disrupt breathing pattern (for example, holding your breath) or to stimulate the throat muscles (for example, drinking liquids with your head at different angles).
Here are some of the best methods to get rid of hiccups:
Drink a Glass of Water Through a Straw
This seems to be one of the most popular methods to get rid of hiccups. To do this, you will need a glass filled with water and a straw. Then plug your ears tightly. You should make sure that there air is not getting into your ears. Gulp down the water.
It seems that this works to affect your throat muscles and disrupt the hiccup reflex. The British Medical Journal published one doctor’s comments where he described this as being a ‘miracle cure’ for hiccough. He didn’t use the straw method but plugged his patient’s ears with his own fingers while they gulped down the water.2 The doctor said that the method was “nearly infallible when applied correctly.”
Other Drinking Methods for Stopping Hiccups
There are other methods of drinking water which may work for some people:
Drink without using your hands – sit on a chair and have a cup of water on a chair in front of you. Bend towards the cup and drink as much as you can from it without touching or holding the glass. Be careful that you don’t tilt the cup so much that it falls over.
Drink upside down – Fill a glass of water half full then bend at your waist and take a few gulps of water. Stand up, and if the hiccups are still there, try again.
Eat Something Sweet
If drinking water didn’t cure your hiccups and you have a sweet tooth, then you can try eating something sweet.
Take a spoon of sugar in your mouth and hold for 5 seconds before swallowing. Alternatively, you can try some soothing raw honey, which has much more nutritional and health benefits than sugar. The sweetness can affect the nerves in your mouth and reduce your hiccup reflex.
Alternatively, you can take a large spoon of peanut butter or natural hazelnut chocolate spread (but avoid Nutella) and hold it in your mouth for 5-10 seconds. Then gently swallow it.
There is actually medical research which seems to back up the fact that very sweet things can help to stop hiccups. For example, research was published in 2012 that showed that sweet taste in the mouth can increase cough reflex thresholds.3 It also mentioned previous research that sugar had been used to help to treat hiccups.
Breathing and Swallowing
Disrupting your breathing patterns is another way that many people use to get rid of hiccups naturally.
Swallowing with a closed mouth – to try this, breathe in as much as you can. When you can’t breathe in anymore, swallow with your mouth still closed. Keep inhaling and swallowing until you can no longer do that. When you can’t continue, let out your breath slowly.
James Achanyi-Fontem, is a Senior Health Journalist and Communication Consultant. He worked as a health journalist and broadcaster for 30 years with Radio Cameroon and later Cameroon Radio Television, CRTV before retiring in 2005 to engage fully with Cameroon Link (Human Assistance Programme). Cameroon Link is a registered charity, not-for-profit organisation involved in the promotion of community health, humanitarian assistance, promotion of women and child rights through involvement of communities in Cameroon for mother and child health care. Cameroon Link is a partner to Commonwealth of Learning (COL), Farm Radio International (FRI), International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN Africa), World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA). As the intermediary of Commonwealth of Learning (COL), Cameroon Link is engaged to implement a Cameroon Rural Radio story design Programming through an investigative research, which aims to discover through interviewing beneficiaries of health programmes on their interests, documenting and disseminating new ideas about how radio stations produce and air Healthy Communities Radio Programs in Cameroon.