How to Get Rid of Hiccups

By: Meg Sparwath  | 

woman holding her breath
Holding your breath is one of the most common ways to supposedly stop the hiccups. But does it really work? Halfbottle/Shutterstock

Everyone, even babies, has bouts of synchronous diaphragmatic flutter (SDF), or singultus. What, you've never heard of SDF? You know it better as the hiccups.

Sure you've had them before, but you probably have no idea what causes them. Good news, the suspense is over! The vagus nerve and its BFF, the phrenic nerve, which are located in your neck and continue down to your diaphragm (a large muscle necessary for breathing) right down into your abdomen. So, when these two BFFs get irritated, they cause your diaphragm to spasm involuntarily, which in turn causes your vocal cords to shut abruptly, and voila, you hiccup.

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Now for every time you've had the hiccups, you've probably heard a home remedy for how to stop them. These are all thought to work in a couple of ways. One way to stifle hiccups is to overwhelm the vagus and phrenic nerves with another sensation. This signals the brain that more important matters have arisen, so it's time to knock off the hiccups.

Other methods interfere with breathing and increase the amount of carbon dioxide in your blood. This supposedly causes your body to become more concerned with getting rid of the carbon dioxide than with hiccupping.

Unfortunately, there is no tried-and-true method of stopping hiccups that works for all people, all the time. But don't fret — there is no shortage of remedies to try. It seems everyone has a "cure" for hiccups, so when you are trapped in the never-ending cycle of hiccupping, you might as well give a few a try.

Stopping the Hiccups

spoonful of sugar
Eating a spoonful of sugar is thought to disrupt the vagus nerve endings and possibly stop hiccups. John Lamb/Getty Images

1. Sweeten Spot

Put a teaspoonful of sugar on the back of your tongue (where you taste sour) for 10 to 15 seconds, and then swallow. The sugar will "overload" the vagus nerve endings and might stop the hiccups because who isn't distracted by sugar? You can also use a spoonful of honey or peanut butter.

2. Sour Notes

On the opposite note, try killing the hiccups with sour notes by sucking on a something like a lemon. The high acidic content found in lemon disrupts the esophagus and distracts the vagus nerve. If you don't have a lemon, try a teaspoonful of apple cider vinegar; its sour taste could stop your hiccups in its tracks.

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3. Take a Chill Pill

Taking an antacid, particularly one high in magnesium, can help calm those vagus and phrenic nerves. And the mineral tends to decrease irritation in your stomach, too.

4. Freezer Burn

Water, in some form, is a key element in many hiccups home remedies. You can try gargling with ice water, slowly sipping very cold water or sucking on an ice cube until it is small enough to swallow (comfortably). The cold might interrupt the vagus nerve and stop it from spasming.

5. Hold Your Breath

Breathing, or not breathing actually, is the main distraction in other methods used to cease hiccups. Try hold your breath for as long as you can. This increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream, and the body becomes preoccupied with getting rid of it and forgets about the hiccups. You can also try breathing into a paper bag, which is believed to work the same way.

6. Pressure Points

Some of the stranger home remedies that say they stop hiccups relate to pressure. In fact, some people have success with acupressure. Try pulling the tip of your tongue, or gently pressing on your eyeballs, in an effort to stimulate and distract the vagus nerve. Some doctors suggest putting your fingers (carefully and not too far, obviously) in your ears to stop the hiccups. The branches of ... wait for it ... the vagus nerve, reach into the auditory system, too. You could also try gentle apply pressure on both sides of your nose while swallowing.

7. Scare Tactics

Some people are big backers of the scare method. If you're frightened, your vagus nerve is too. You can try having someone jump out and surprise both of you.

8. Other Weird Ways

Like we said, there's no tried-and-true way to stop the hiccups that works for everybody. So, if nothing we've listed has worked, you can try a few more things to see if they help. Drink from the opposite side of a glass by tipping it under your chin to drink from the far side. Some say you can bite your thumbs and then blow on them. And believe it or not, several studies have shown that rectal massages (gasp!) can immediately stop severe cases. Yikes.

Preventing the Hiccups

spicy food
Cutting out spicy foods might help attacks of the hiccups from ever even starting. sdominick/Getty Images

Remember, all of these techniques are simply to distract your vagus nerve and stop the hiccups. But what if you could stop them before they ever start? Here are some ways to avoid hiccups from occurring at all.

1. Eat Slower

If you eat fast, you are probably not chewing food thoroughly, which seems to cause hiccups. And rapid-fire feeding causes air to get trapped between pieces of food, which may set off the vagus nerve. Chew deliberately and take smaller sips of drinks to keep your air intake to a minimum.

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2. Don't Pig Out

Overloading the stomach with food is another cause of hiccups. Some experts theorize that hiccups are your body's way of telling you to quit eating so your digestive system has time to process all the food you've forced down your gullet.

3. 86 the Spicy Foods

Some spices can irritate the lining of the esophagus and stomach. At the same time, they can also cause acid from the stomach to leak into the esophagus. The extra acid can bring on hiccups.

4. Drink in Moderation

Like spices, alcoholic beverages can cause a simultaneous irritation of the esophagus and the stomach. And over time, excessive drinking can damage the lining of the food pipe. Parties, like the kind some college students attend, where people consume a lot of alcohol as quickly as possible, can lead to acute ingestion. The digestive system not only becomes irritated by the alcohol, but big gulps of it cause the esophagus to expand rapidly, resulting in hiccups. Needless to say, the vagus nerve is not a fan of over imbibing in food or drink.

The fact is, hiccups are a nuisance more than anything else, and they usually stop on their own. But occasionally they are a symptom of a more serious problem. Experts advise anyone whose hiccups are severe enough to interfere with eating, breathing or sleeping, or last more than 48 hours (yikes) to see a doctor.

Originally Published: Nov 14, 2008

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