Hiccups are not a particularly serious medical condition, but that doesn’t make them any less annoying. Knowing how to get rid of hiccups fast is an important life skill, especially if they persistently arise when you’re trying to eat, talk, speak up in class, or make an important work presentation.
Everyone has their own set of tricks and hacks that claim to expel hiccups, but how many of these are actually helpful? And are they just old wives tales?
Considering that hiccups are generally not dangerous and usually go away on their own after a few minutes, scientists are understandably focused on more arduous medical matters. This means that research into the effectiveness of hiccup remedies are limited, hence all the exaggerated claims and popular myths.
That said, there are some methods that may help you and your diaphragm get some relief if hiccups do occur.
Table of Contents
What causes hiccups?
Hiccups are produced by spasms in the diaphragm that are typically caused by lifestyle factors.
Your diaphragm, a large muscle that helps you breathe in and out, causes you to inhale sharply when it spasms. This sudden inhale makes vocal cords snap shut, producing the distinctive sound that we know as hiccups.
Some causes may include:
- Eating too much or too quickly
- Swallowing air along with food
- Drinking carbonated drinks
- Eating spicy food
- Being stressed or excited
- Drinking alcohol
- Sudden temperature changes
- Strokes or brain tumors
How to Get Rid of Hiccups
Instead of methods that include having someone scare you or trying impossible "cures," these easy remedies can stop hiccups.
1. Settle your breathing.
Given that your respiratory system is spasming, it helps to calm things down with slow, measured breathing. Breathe in through your nose for a count of 5 and slowly out through your mouth for 5. Repeat for as long as necessary.
2. Breathe into a paper bag.
This raises carbon dioxide levels in the blood, which prevents diaphragmatic spasms. Place a paper bag, never plastic, over the mouth and nose, and slowly deflate and inflate it by breathing in and out.
3. Hug your knees to your chest.
Sit in a comfortable place with your knees tucked close to your chest, wrapping your arms around them. Stay in this position for 2 or 3 minutes, then release and repeat. This relieves some of the pressure on your diaphragm.
4. Press on your diaphragm.
To ease the spasms, it can help to push down on your diaphragm, which is located as a divide between your lungs and abdomen. To do this, place your hand at the end of your sternum and push slightly.
5. Hold your breath.
This is one of the most common hiccup remedies and one that actually works!
The “hic” sound in hiccups comes from the opening of your vocal cords, which occurs when you breathe in. Holding your breath stops this opening and allows carbon dioxide to calm your diaphragm.
Hold your breath for 20 seconds and exhale slowly. Repeat if needed.
6. Drink cold water.
This stops the irritation in the diaphragm and relaxes spasms. Take slow, steady sips of a glass of ice-cold water.
7. Bite on a lemon wedge with bitters.
This was a popular hack among bartenders before being proven successful by scientists. Add a few drops of bitters to a fresh lemon wedge and chew on it to ease hiccups.
8. Enjoy honey.
Honey, particularly Manuka honey, is a well-known ulcer cure and cough soother, and may ease the irritation that causes hiccups. Stir a spoonful into hot water and drink it slowly.
9. Compress your chest.
Lean or bend forward so your chest is parallel with the floor. Like pressing down on your sternum, this applies pressure to the sternum and stops its movements.
10. Apply ice to your neck.
Place an ice cube on the back of your neck, right where you find the top protruding bone. At the same time, place another cube two inches below your jaw for 30 seconds. This will briefly interrupt the vagus nerve, which is responsible for diaphragmatic contractions.
11. Tug your tongue.
Pulling your tongue stimulates the muscles and nerves in your throat, prompting them to regulate contractions and control hiccups.
12. Squeeze your hand.
Using your thumb, push into the palm of your other hand. Similar to pulling your tongue, prodding the pressure points on your hand can wake up nerves and speed up hiccup recovery.
13. Drink water from the opposite side of the glass.
We’ve all heard the old “drink upside-down trick” and, according to New York University otolaryngologist Dr. Erich Voigt, it’s the only method that actually works.
The drinking water part is mainly for distraction, but tilting your head to do this contracts your abdomen muscles which prevent the spasming involved with hiccups. To do this, tip the glass up under your chin and drink from the far side.
14. Rub the back of your neck.
A quick, gentle neck massage can relax your tightened throat muscles and stimulate the phrenic nerve, which is responsible for the motor control of the diaphragm.
15. Drink warm water while holding your breath.
What would you do if you had a muscle cramp? Apply heat. Warm water relaxes the throat muscles and eases contractions.
Drink a full glass of lukewarm water slowly, without stopping. Holding your breath while doing so will give you the added benefit of keeping your vocal cords shut.
16. Drink water through a piece of cloth.
If that doesn’t work, try placing a piece of fabric or paper towel over a glass and sip slowly through it. This forces you to pull harder with your diaphragm to get water.
17. Plug your ears and drink through a straw.
If you don’t have anything to cover your glass, a straw will have the same effect. Plugging your ears while doing so will press down on the vagus nerve.
18. Swallow sugar.
Sugar irritates the back of the throat and, in turn, stops the spasm, according to one research paper. Just as Mary Poppins would have prescribed, swallow a spoonful of sugar with some water to get rid of hiccups.
19. Eat peanut butter.
Have a heaping spoonful of peanut butter, smooth or crunchy. Because peanut butter is thick and creamy, it can take some time to get it down. This interrupts the breathing pattern that caused your hiccups in the first place.
20. Touch the back of your throat with a cotton swab.
Gently swab the back of your throat with a Q-tip until you cough or gag. The tickling sensation and your gag reflex can stimulate the vagus nerve and halt hiccups.
21. Chew on dill.
This is a less aggressive, more tasty approach than the Q-tip trick, but works for similar reasons. Chewing a handful of dill seeds can tickle the vagus nerve.
22. Pop your ears.
If you’ve ever popped your ears on a flight or a mountain drive, you’ve use the Valsalva maneuver. This is also successful in stopping hiccups by interrupting the reflex.
23. Distract yourself.
Most of the more elaborate hiccup hacks are based on the logic that, if you can stop paying attention to your hiccups, they’ll go away themselves. Do some calculations in your head or pace around for a couple of minutes to allow hiccups to subside naturally.
Related Stories From YourTango:
How to Prevent Hiccups
Hiccups are usually caused by simple lifestyle factors, making them easy to treat and even easier to prevent. Pay attention to what factors might be causing your hiccups and adjust your diet or lifestyle accordingly to avoid them.
Here are a few hiccup prevention methods to consider:
1. Decrease portion sizes to avoid overeating.
2. Eat slowly by pausing between mouthfuls or using smaller utensils.
3. Decrease alcohol intake.
4. Avoid carbonated drinks or drink them more slowly.
5. Avoid spicy foods.
6. Practice deep breathing and relaxation techniques to ease stress.
When to See a Doctor
Hiccups are rarely something to be concerned about, but there are some cases where persistent hiccups are a sign of an underlying medical condition, such as gastroesophageal reflux, stroke, or even multiple sclerosis.
If you notice yourself getting hiccups more often than normal, even after making lifestyle changes, or have hiccups that last for 48 hours or more, speak to your doctor who will be able to diagnose any prevalent health issues or prescribe medication to control your hiccups.
More for You on YourTango:
Alice Kelly is a senior news and entertainment editor for YourTango. Based out of Brooklyn, New York, her work covers all things social justice, pop culture, and human interest. Keep up with her on Twitter for more.