Hic. Hic. There it goes again. Hic. Although a momentary nuisance for most people, hiccups have engendered a legion of home remedies, each with its own army of true believers.
The best remedies try to block the reflex in your diaphragm—the muscle wall that controls breathing from the bottom of the rib cage. Hiccups happen when the diaphragm becomes irritated and contracts irregularly. The contraction causes you to inhale, but your breath is blocked by the glottis, the opening of your windpipe. It's a standoff between two reflexes—the diaphragm, which starts the breath, and the glottis, which stops it.
Hiccups can have many causes, some of which are overeating, drinking too much alcohol, gastrointestinal reflux, and certain medications.
Left alone, hiccups probably will go away after a few minutes. But that short time can seem like an eternity, so here are a few things you can try:
1. Hold it. Hold your breath for as long as you can, then exhale. Inhale and hold your breath again. Do this for several cycles until the hiccups stop. Holding your breath causes a buildup of carbon dioxide, which drives the breathing response, and breaks the cycle of hiccups.
2. Sweeten it. Swallow a teaspoon of dry sugar. The action of swallowing sugar interferes with the signals that trigger hiccups.
3. Gulp it. Drink water from the far lip of a cup, tipping your head forward so the water runs down the back of your throat.
The above suggestions are only for adults. It is important to note that it is normal for most babies to have hiccups from time to time. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that if hiccups occur during feeding, changing your baby's position, try to get your baby to burp, or help your baby to relax (for example, rubbing his or her back) may help stop them. Feeding your baby when he or she is calm and before he or she is really hungry should also help reduce the hiccups. A baby's hiccups are usually more disturbing to the parent than they are to the infant.
Usually, hiccups are an irritating, short-term problem. Sometimes, however, people with serious medical conditions can develop hiccups naturally or as a complication of their treatment. For these people, hiccups can last for days, weeks, or become permanent. When this occurs, it can have a major impact on the person's quality of life. A health care provider's evaluation will determine the best way to treat such serious hiccups.
Fortunately, for most people, short-term hiccups are the problem. Find out what works for you. Your spell of hiccups may even subside by itself before you get through the list of remedies.
- Fincannon, Joy, RN, MN
- Hanrahan, Maura, MD