It’s happened to almost every one of us. Right in the middle of that important conversation—the big job interview or the moment where he leans in to say “I love you”—a little “pop” escapes from your lips. You try to hold your breath nonchalantly, nodding absentmindedly as if listening, all the while praying to make it go away. While other bodily glitches may be more embarrassing, hiccups are often the most persistent.
Although we have a general idea of what causes hiccups, figuring out how to get rid of them is anything but clear.
The Cause of the Ruckus
Hiccups are described as brief, irritable spasms of your diaphragm that can occur for a few seconds or minutes. The diaphragm is the muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdomen and plays an important role in breathing. This spasm, or contraction, makes your vocal cords close very briefly, causing an intake of breath that produces the sound of a hiccup. The phrenic nerve, which controls the diaphragm, is directly responsible for these spasms.
Why do we hiccup? Apparently there is no medical consensus, but there are several theories. Eating too fast and swallowing too much air, eating too much fatty or spicy food, vigorous laughing or crying, sipping a cold drink while eating a hot meal, excessive drinking of alcohol, or any other activity that excites the diaphragm can cause hiccupping. Because they occur in relation to eating and drinking, hiccups are sometimes thought to be a reflex to protect you from choking. Sudden excitement and emotional stress can also cause hiccups.
According to researchers at the Mayo Clinic, hiccups may be the result of an underlying medical condition. When this is the case, the hiccups usually last longer than forty-eight hours. More than one hundred causes of persistent and intractable hiccups have been identified. They are generally grouped into the following categories: nerve damage or irritation, metabolic disorders, surgery, and mental or emotional triggers. It is recommended that you contact your doctor if hiccupping persists for more than two days.
The End to Hiccups
When your phrenic nerve begins acting irresponsibly, you’re probably far more concerned with how to stop hiccupping than what started the phenomenon in the first place. Everyone seems to have a tried and true method for making hiccups go away.
The most common include holding your breath, gargling, breathing into a bag, drinking a tall glass of water slowly and without interruption, sucking on ice, holding your tongue, and being frightened.
If those methods don’t work, there are several other homeopathic options. Health911.com has an A–Z list of remedies. My favorites are as follows:
Anise seed: Pour a cupful of boiling water over a teaspoonful of anise seeds, steep for a few minutes, and take one or two teaspoons.
Apple cider vinegar: Slowly sip a glass of warm water mixed with one teaspoon of vinegar. Works better when the water is drunk from the far side of the glass.
Cream of tartar: Add 1/3 teaspoon of cream of tartar to 8 ounces warm water; drink 2 tablespoons at a time on an empty stomach.
Cuprum metallicum: A homeopathic remedy, diluted cuprum metallicum granules, taken immediately, are thought to cure hiccups.
Red pepper: Pour a half pint of boiling water over a quarter of a red pepper, steep, and drink. If no red pepper is available, use five drops of a Capsicum tincture in a tablespoonful of water.
There are several physiological solutions as well, including applying pressure to certain points below the rib cage or lying on the floor and drawing your knees up to your chest. You can also try sitting on a chair and folding your body forward in a tuck position while squeezing your arms. One self-proclaimed hiccup expert suggested closing your eyes and swaying with the motion brought on by your hiccups—implying that going with the flow rather than resisting will actually release the hiccups. Another expert—and lifelong hiccup sufferer—swears by this method.
There are plenty of supposedly foolproof cures on the internet, many of them outlandish. Three of my favorite include the bartender’s remedy (place four or five drops of angostura bitters on a lemon wedge and suck on it until the hiccups stop), the French salad dressing method (swallow a teaspoon of French dressing and voila!), and the knife method (put a sharp knife point at the bottom of a glass of water and drink the glass while staring at the point).
I know stopping a passionate embrace in order to suck on a lemon or sip a warm glass of tartar sauce might not be easy. There is no deft way to halt a job interview in order to sway to the motion of your hiccups. Execution of these proposed methods will have to be up to your discretion. But there are many creative methods devoted to relieving the hiccups besides holding your breath. Between water and vinegar, or French dressing and red pepper, you’re bound to find a flavor and a remedy that’s right for you.