Remedies to Help Stop Hiccups Immediately
Just about everyone has experienced hiccups at one time or another. They’re most common in infants, but everything from drinking bubbly sodas to chowing down on spicy foods to swallowing air too quickly can lead to those telltale spasms in people of all ages.
As common as hiccups are, they’re not a health issue in and of themselves (though they can be a symptom of underlying conditions). They are, though, a nuisance — and sometimes a puzzle. So just what are hiccups, and what causes them? And, most importantly, how can you stop them in their tracks to keep them from interfering with your daily life? Learn the answers to these (and other) questions below.
What Are Hiccups?
Hiccups start in your diaphragm, which is a flat, plate-shaped muscle that separates your chest from your abdominal cavity (and your lungs from your stomach). It’s involved in breathing; when your diaphragm rises, air is forced from your lungs, causing you to exhale. When the muscle lowers, your lungs pull air in as you inhale.
Every once in a while, and for reasons that aren’t well understood, your brain sends a signal through the nerves ending in your diaphragm. This signal triggers your diaphragm to drop suddenly. When that happens, the movement pulls air through your mouth and into the back of your throat. The combination of all these signals and muscle contractions causes a pressure change that quickly closes your vocal cords and results in the telltale “hic” sound.
Hiccups usually don’t last longer than a few minutes, but in some cases they can persist for longer periods of time. According to the Mayo Clinic, hiccups that last longer than 48 hours are often a symptom of an underlying medical condition or the result of exposure to an irritant or certain medication.
What Causes Hiccups?
While hiccups are sometimes a symptom of another health concern, they often develop on their own due to certain triggers. Some of the most common causes of hiccups that usually won’t last longer than 48 hours include the following:
- Drinking carbonated drinks, such as sodas or beer
- Overeating, which results in pressure from a very full stomach
- Drinking large amounts of alcohol
- Inhaling too much air, such as while smoking, chewing gum, drinking through a straw or sucking on hard candies
- Experiencing sudden temperature changes
- Experiencing excitement, stress or other intense emotions
When hiccups are the result of an underlying medical condition, they may last longer than 48 hours or you may begin to experience much more frequent bouts of them. Sometimes, they happen when your vagus or phrenic nerves, which interact with your diaphragm, become triggered. Below are some of the most common medical reasons people experience hiccups:
- Irritation or damage to the vagus and phrenic nerves caused by factors such as tumors or cysts in your neck, something touching your eardrum, laryngitis or severe indigestion
- The use of barbiturate, steroid or tranquilizer drugs
- Metabolic disorders such as kidney disease or diabetes
- Health conditions such as alcoholism
- Undergoing anesthesia
- Disorders involving your central nervous system, which may include strokes, multiple sclerosis, brain injuries or infections
How Can You Stop Hiccups?
There isn’t one surefire way to eliminate hiccups. If they’re the result of a medical condition, treating that underlying issue can bring an end to your hiccups. Similarly, you might need to stop taking medications that cause hiccups to find relief. However, if a glass of soda or a bite of spicy food is what sets off a bout of these spasms, identifying an effective remedy to stop your hiccups involves combining science, home remedies and an old wives’ tale or two. While these options aren’t guaranteed to stop hiccups for good, people often experience success trying out the following techniques.
Holding your breath and breathing into and out of a paper bag. Both holding your breath (for 10 to 20 seconds and repeating as required) and breathing into and out of a paper bag (to inflate and deflate the bag) increase the amount of carbon dioxide in your lungs. That carbon dioxide may relax your diaphragm muscle and end your hiccups. Keep in mind that you should never use a plastic bag.
Practicing breath control. Beyond holding your breath, controlling your breath to disrupt your respiratory system might help eliminate hiccups. Try to breathe slowly, consistently and deeply by counting to five while inhaling and counting to five again while exhaling.
Using the Valsalva maneuver. If you’ve ever tried to “pop” your ears while swimming or flying or when you’re feeling congested, you’ll likely be familiar with this technique. To perform it, close your mouth, pinching your nose shut and exhaling forcefully. The Valsalva maneuver can interrupt the reflexive spasms characteristic of hiccups. Try holding this maneuver for about 10 seconds, but keep in mind that, if it doesn’t provide relief, you don’t want to continue repeating it.
Stimulating the back of your throat. By gently pulling on your tongue or poking the back of your throat with a cotton swab, you can stimulate your vagus nerve — and maybe even trigger your gag reflex. That gag reflex or the stimulation of your vagus nerve may be enough to stop your hiccups.
Drinking water. While some tips related to hiccups and water might fall into “old wives’ tale” territory, some simple sipping may actually do the trick. Drink ice-cold water slowly to stimulate the vagus nerve. Like the Valsalva maneuver, repeatedly swallowing small amounts of water may also work to interrupt your hiccup reflex.
Trying pharmaceutical interventions. If these home remedies aren’t effective to eliminate your hiccups, your family doctor may be able to provide some relief in the form of prescription medication. If your hiccups last longer than 48 hours or if they’re severe enough to interfere with your breathing, sleeping or eating, make an appointment with your doctor.