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Hiccup Hacks

We can all probably agree that hiccups are kind of weird. They usually come out of the blue and typically at the most inopportune moments.

There are primarily three things known to modern science and the world about hiccups.

Fact: Scientifically, we know what a hiccup is. The simplest way to explain it is that when the muscle between our chest and stomach area (the diaphragm) gets an unusual signal from the brain telling it to move downward instead of upward suddenly. The sudden downward movement of the diaphragm forces a lot of air into the back of the throat rather than out of through lungs as it usually would, causing a sudden change in pressure in the throat which in turn snaps a narrow area shut for a moment. That moment is when we make the “hic” sound.

Fact: We don’t know what causes the brain to send the wrong signal sometimes, so we have no idea what causes hiccups. Certain things do tend to bring on bouts of hiccupping, such as overeating, consuming too much alcohol, carbonated beverages, and heightened emotions like excitement or stress.

Fact: Hiccups are unpleasant for the one hiccupping, and if it goes on long enough, to those nearby.

The best way to stop the average case of hiccups is speculative and remains up for debate within the scientific community and the general population. Perhaps it’s just a matter of choosing which method works best individually, but we may never know.

With no real consensus on how to get rid of hiccups, here are some home remedies that seem to have been successful. Some may be familiar and others new to you.

On her website, One Good Thing, Jill “Jillee” Nystul posted that the following breathing exercise usually gets rid of them. “First, exhale all the air from your lungs, then inhale as slowly as possible until your lungs are full. Hold your breath for as long as you can, then exhale all that air back out as slowly as possible.”

In an interview with SELF magazine, Celine Thum, MD says her “go-to home remedy is taking 20 tiny sips of water in a row, as quickly as possible.” She explained that repeatedly swallowing water prevents you from breathing which forces your body to calm down and slows the nerve impulses to the diaphragm.

Most of us have probably heard of most common home remedies. They can be helpful and certainly can’t hurt.

  • Hold your breath
  • Drink a glass of water quickly
  • Have someone frighten you
  • Pull hard on your tongue
  • Bite on a lemon
  • Gargle with water
  • Drink from the far side of a glass
  • Use smelling salts
  • Place one-half teaspoon of dry sugar on the back of your tongue.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac published some interesting suggestions, so we’re adding a few of them for pure entertainment value. (Do not try these at home!)

  • Massage ice cubes against the roof of your mouth.
  • Breathe deeply into a small pillow filled with fragrant pine needles and think peaceful thoughts.
  • Rub one earlobe between your thumb and forefinger.
  • Bite your thumbs and then blow on them.
  • Swallow a spoonful of vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, or something spicy hot.

While it may seem like “Old Farmer’s Almanac” territory to some, SEARHC Medical Director of Primary Care Clinics, Dr. Catherine Buley pointed out that there is an acupressure point on our forearm that when pressed, may help get rid of hiccups (and coincidentally, a good spot if you’re ever feeling nauseous). Using your middle and index fingers, press firmly down on the groove between the two large tendons on the inside of your wrist at the base of your palm.

Photo of hand demonstrating acupressure

Please be aware that while generally harmless, hiccupping could also be a symptom of something that should be checked out by a healthcare professional. If you or your child experience hiccups lasting more than 48 hours or cause difficulty eating, sleeping or breathing, please contact your local SEARHC Primary Care Clinic or a SEARHC Express Care Clinic in your community. If some of the physical methods attempted don’t resolve the issue, your provider may suggest medication or other available treatment options.

Of course, we noted at the beginning; most of us think hiccups are strange, something we could do without, and, most of us probably have a tried and true method of getting them to stop as well. If you do, please share it on any SEARHC social media platform using #HiccupHack and #HealthyIsHere in your post.

The information here was reviewed by Cate Buley, MD, SEARHC Ethel Lund Medical Center.

If you have feedback about this content or have additional topics ideas for SEARHC, email us at SEARHCnewsroom@searhc.org.

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