Who hasn't had the hiccups at one time or another? Normally they are just a temporary annoyance, but for some, they may be more serious. Every year, 4,000 people are hospitalized for bouts of hiccups. Of these, 91% are men, with the majority being age 50 or older.
Hiccups occur when our diaphragms involuntarily start to spasm. The most common causes of these hiccups include:
- eating too much food at one time
- eating food too quickly
- drinking carbonated drinks
- eating spicy foods
- drinking alcohol
- becoming overly excited or stressed
- being exposed to sudden temperature changes
Hiccup Treatment Options
For those of us who occasionally find ourselves experiencing these involuntary spasms, there are several simple treatments available that really do work. Here are ten of them.
1. Hold Your Breath
Since hiccups include uncontrollable spasms and contractions in the diaphragm, it only makes sense that one cure includes holding in your breath.
Why Holding Your Breath Helps
Holding your breath can cause a buildup of carbon dioxide in the lungs, causing the diaphragm to relax.
How to Hold Your Breath to Relieve Hiccups
- Start by inhaling a big gulp of air.
- Hold your breath as long as you can, at least 10-20 seconds
- Breath out slow and steady.
- Repeat if needed.
2. Sip on Cold Water
Sipping on cold water has a different effect on the body than warm or room-temperature water, and can help put an end to your hiccups.
Why Sipping on Cold Water Helps
Slow sips of cold or icy water can stimulate the vagus nerve and end the spasms in the diaphragm. The vagus nerve (a long cranial nerve) connects the brainstem to the body. One of its functions is Parasympathetic, and its responsibilities are heart rate, respiration, and digestive tract functioning.
How to Sip on Cold Water to End Hiccups
- Fill up a glass with cold water.
- Take a slow sip and swallow.
- Continue until hiccups are gone.
3. Use Measured Breathing
Another way to end those involuntary spasms in your diaphragm is to use measured breathing.
Why Measured Breathing Works
Measured breathing switches you out of regulated breathing to a more conscious process, which can calm the body overall. Using deeper, more measured breaths, the body's vagus nerve tells the diaphragm to relax.
How to do Measured Breathing
- Breath in slowly, counting to five.
- Breath out, again with an evenly spaced count of five.
- Repeat until hiccups cease.
4. Try Popping Your Ears
Popping your ears on purpose is done by using the Valsalva maneuver.
Why Popping Your Ears Helps
Popping your ears with the Valsalva maneuver interrupts the hiccup reflex, and returns the diaphragm to its relaxed state.
How to do the Valsalva Maneuver
- Pinch your nose closed while keeping your mouth shut tight.
- Exhale, but not too forcefully.
- Keep nose pinched for up to 15 seconds.
- Repeat if necessary, but only a few times (if this is not working after a few tries, then try another treatment).
5. Eat a Spoonful of Sugar
Eating something while you have the hiccups can also disrupt the spasms.
Why Eating Sugar Helps
Eating something granule like sugar can irritate your throat, which may stop the involuntary hiccup reaction.
How to Eat Sugar to Help Ease Hiccups
- Scoop out a spoonful of sugar on a dry spoon.
- Pour the sugar onto the back of your tongue.
- Let it sit for up to 10 seconds.
6. Chomp on a Lemon Slice
Long used by bartenders, the lemon slice, with a drop of bitters, can help calm and silence the hiccups.
Why Chomping on a Lemon Slice Helps
It's not clear exactly why lemon can stop the hiccups. One suggestion is that it is because of the sour taste. The irritated nerves are overwhelmed by the sourness, and this causes the hiccups to disappear.
How to Chomp on a Lemon Slice to End Hiccups
- Slice or wedge a lemon.
- Add a few drops of bitters, such as Angostura bitters.
- Eat the lemon part, leaving the rind behind.
If you don't want to eat the lemon, try just sucking on it for a few minutes instead.
7. Breath Into A Small, Paper Bag
Somewhat similar to the previous hiccup treatment of holding your breath, breathing into a paper bag reportedly can halt temporary hiccups just as quickly.
Why Breathing Into a Bag Helps
Breathing into a bag held over your mouth increases the level of carbon dioxide in your blood. This stops the involuntary spasms in your diaphragm.
How to Breath Into a Bag to Relieve Hiccups
- Cover your mouth and nose with a small, paper bag.
- Slowly take a breath in.
- Then slowly breathe out.
As you inhale and exhale, the paper bag will deflate then inflate. This may also distract your mind, which could help stop hiccups as well.
8. Hug Your Knees in Close to Your Chest
A physical action you can take to alleviate the hiccups is to pull your knees into your chest and hug them.
Why Hugging Your Knees Helps
When you hug your knees up to your chest, it creates pressure in a different location. This relieves the pressure on your diaphragm which is causing you to hiccup.
How to Hug Your Knees for Greatest Effect
- Find a comfortable spot to lie down.
- Stretch your legs in front of you.
- Slowly bring your knees up, bending them as close to your chest as you can.
- Hold for two minutes.
- Repeat if necessary.
9. Use the Ice Cube Trick
The ice cube trick simply means strategically placing ice cubes to help rid you of your hiccups.
Why the Ice Cube Trick Helps
As with previous treatments, this one also involves the vagus nerve. The signal from the vagus nerve to the diaphragm, telling it to contract, can be interrupted by the ice cube placement.
How to Do the Ice Cube Trick
- Place one ice cube to the back of your neck, on top of the protruding bone.
- Place a second ice cube a few inches below your jaw.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
10. Apply Pressure to Pressure Points
Sensitive pressure points range throughout the body, and applying pressure to any of them can cause positive effects within the body.
Why Pressure to Pressure Points Helps
By applying slight, constant pressure to certain areas of the upper body, the diaphragm can be relaxed. Also, the vagus nerve can be stimulated.
How and Where to Apply Pressure
There are several pressure points that can be pressed to relieve hiccups.
- Stick out your tongue.
- Grab the tip.
- Pull your tongue gently forward once or twice.
- Place your hand slightly below the bottom of your sternum.
- Apply slight pressure.
What To Do Next
All of these treatments are for the occasional bouts of hiccups. They include breathing techniques, consuming cold water, sugar, or lemons, strategically placing ice cubes on neck and jaw, and also applying pressure to sensitive pressure points. All can relieve the involuntary spasms of the diaphragm itself.
There may be instances, however, such as experiencing chronic, persistent hiccups, when medical attention may be needed. If hiccups occur over and over again for more than two days, it may be a sign of something more serious. These may include:
- multiple sclerosis, or MS
- gastroesophageal reflux, or GERD
On the other hand, if hiccups happen occasionally, or after eating or drinking, you may need to modify some of your lifestyle habits. Here are suggestions on how to prevent the hiccups from returning.
- Slow Down Your Eating. When you eat too fast, air can be caught in between food pieces and swallowed. Slow down and fully chew each piece of food.
- Eat Less. Hiccups often occur after you have consumed a large quantity of food. Many believe that hiccups are your body's mechanism to tell you to stop eating.
- Cut Down on Spicy Food. Eating too much spicy food can irritate the lining of your stomach. It can also cause acid to creep up into your esophagus. Both of these have been known to cause hiccups.
- Cut Back on Alcohol Intake. Alcohol is another substance that can irritate the stomach lining and also the esophagus. Taking big swigs of alcohol can cause your esophagus to expand quickly and cause you to swallow more air.
- Steer Clear of Carbonated Drinks: The carbonation in these drinks cause expansion in your stomach, which leads to irritation in the diaphragm.
- Relax More. Learning methods of relaxation, such as meditation and deep breathing, can help reduce stress. Stress is often associated with hiccups as well.
Although annoying, hiccups usually aren't serious and can be stopped rather quickly by using any of these simple treatments. Going one step further and making conscious lifestyle changes can help you eliminate them altogether or at least lower their frequency.