How to Get Rid of Hiccups

Janis

By Janis | Updated January 1, 2024

Hiccups, those sudden, involuntary contractions of the diaphragm that result in those familiar “hic” sounds, are an annoyance that almost everyone has experienced at some point. 

While they are usually harmless and often disappear on their own, hiccups can be quite bothersome and may persist for longer than we’d like. 

Whether you’re trying to enjoy a meal, have an important presentation, or simply relax, persistent hiccups can disrupt your plans and even be a source of embarrassment.

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the science behind hiccups and explore a wide array of effective methods to get rid of them quickly and prevent them from recurring. 

What Are Hiccups?

Hiccups, also known as hiccoughs, refer to sounds produced by spasms or involuntary contractions of the diaphragm. This is the dome-shaped muscle that aids breathing and separates the organs of the chest from the abdominal cavity. 

These contractions cause a sudden intake of air, which is then abruptly cut off by the closure of the vocal cords, creating the characteristic “hic” sound. 

While the diaphragm is the primary muscle responsible for hiccups, other body parts play a role in this reflex, including the phrenic nerves, which control the diaphragm’s movement.

Also involved is the vagus nerve, which is involved in regulating various bodily functions, including the digestive system and respiratory control.

What Causes Hiccups

Hiccups are often triggered by various factors, from everyday eating habits to more serious medical issues. Understanding their causes can offer insights into prevention and management.

How You Eat and Drink

Eating and drinking habits play a significant role in causing hiccups. When you consume food or drinks too quickly, you might swallow air along with it. 

This excess air can irritate your diaphragm and cause it to contract involuntarily, leading to hiccups. Swallowing too much air while eating or drinking may also trigger the diaphragm to contract involuntarily.

Stress

When you’re stressed, your body releases stress hormones, which can stimulate the nerve pathways responsible for the hiccup reflex. These hormones can affect your diaphragm, causing it to spasm.

Additionally, stress can lead to rapid breathing or hyperventilation, which might result in an imbalance of oxygen and carbon dioxide, which may trigger hiccups.

Excitement

When you’re excited, your breathing patterns can change, sometimes causing you to take quick, shallow breaths. This altered breathing can lead to an imbalance in oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, prompting the diaphragm to spasm.

Moreover, excitement can stimulate the release of certain neurotransmitters that affect the nerve pathways linked to hiccup reflexes.

Sudden Temperature Changes

When you consume something cold immediately after something hot, the rapid temperature shift can irritate your diaphragm. This sudden change prompts it to contract, leading to hiccups.

The cold substance can also directly stimulate the nerves in your esophagus or stomach, further inducing those involuntary diaphragmatic spasms.

Foods Causing Hiccups

Certain foods, especially spicy or acidic ones, can irritate the lining of your esophagus and stomach.

Additionally, large meals can distend your stomach, pressing against the diaphragm, which may also trigger involuntary contractions.

Stroke

A stroke can disrupt the pathways in your brain responsible for the hiccup reflex. If areas like the brainstem or the phrenic nerves are affected, it can lead to diaphragmatic spasms.

Furthermore, a stroke’s pressure and inflammation might impact the regions governing diaphragmatic control, prompting persistent hiccups.

Tumors

Tumors, particularly those located near the diaphragm or chest area, can exert pressure on or irritate the phrenic nerves, causing your diaphragm to spasm.

It’s also possible that if a tumor develops in the brain, it might disrupt the pathways that regulate the hiccup reflex, leading to persistent or recurrent hiccups.

Seizures

Seizures can disrupt the normal electrical activity in your brain. If the areas responsible for the hiccup reflex are affected, this can trigger diaphragmatic spasms. 

The postictal state after a seizure, characterized by altered consciousness and confusion, might also induce changes in breathing patterns, potentially leading to hiccups.

Cancer

Cancers, especially those in the chest, lungs, or diaphragm region, can irritate or press against the phrenic nerves, leading to spasms.

Additionally, some treatments for cancer, like chemotherapy, might induce side effects, including changes in electrolyte balance or nerve function, which can subsequently trigger persistent hiccups.

Metabolic Issues

Metabolic issues, like an imbalance in electrolytes, can affect nerve function and lead to diaphragmatic spasms. When your body’s levels of potassium, calcium, or sodium are disrupted, it can irritate the phrenic nerves.

Conditions like diabetes or kidney failure can also cause toxin accumulation, further stimulating the hiccup reflex.

Getting Rid of Hiccups

Hiccups can be annoying, but there are several remedies and treatments you can try. 

Drink Water Slowly

Drinking water slowly stimulates the vagus nerve, which runs from your brain to your stomach. By distracting and resetting this nerve, the hiccup reflex can be interrupted.

Also, the act of repeated swallowing as you drink can help relax the diaphragm, aiding in the cessation of its spasmodic contractions.

Holding Your Breath

Holding your breath increases the carbon dioxide levels in your bloodstream. This build-up of carbon dioxide can interrupt the hiccup reflex, helping to stop the spasms.

Moreover, holding your breath exerts pressure on the diaphragm, which can aid in calming its involuntary contractions and alleviating hiccups.

Deep Breaths

Deep breathing ensures a regular inflow and outflow of air, helping to stabilize the diaphragm. This rhythmic breathing can prevent or halt the spasmodic contractions causing hiccups.

By focusing on your breathing, you might also engage the vagus nerve, potentially interrupting and resetting the hiccup reflex.

Gargling Water

Gargling water stimulates the back of your throat, engaging the vagus nerve. This can interrupt and reset the hiccup reflex, offering relief.

To try this technique, take a glass of cold water and slowly sip it while tilting your head back. Then, gargle the water in your throat for a few seconds. 

This sudden change in temperature and the swallowing reflex can help interrupt the hiccup cycle, providing relief from this involuntary contraction of the diaphragm.

Valsalva Maneuver

The Valsalva Maneuver involves taking a deep breath and holding it, then bearing it down as if you’re trying to have a bowel movement.

This action increases intrathoracic pressure, potentially interrupting the hiccup reflex.

Take a Spoonful of Sugar

Swallowing a spoonful of sugar can create a grainy, abrasive sensation in the back of your throat, which then stimulates the vagus nerve. This stimulation can interrupt and reset the hiccup reflex.

Additionally, the sudden intake of sugar might overwhelm the nerve endings in the mouth and throat, offering a distracting mechanism to halt hiccups.

Bring Your Knees to Your Chest

Bringing your knees to your chest can exert pressure on the diaphragm, helping to stabilize its contractions.

This position may interrupt the hiccup reflex by changing the dynamics of the thoracic cavity. 

Take Medications

Certain medications target neurotransmitters or nerve pathways associated with the hiccup reflex, helping to suppress or interrupt the spasms. When prescribed, these drugs can offer relief, especially for persistent or chronic hiccups.

Always consult with a healthcare provider before taking any medication, as they can provide guidance on dosages, potential side effects, and interactions with other drugs.

Preventing Hiccups

While hiccups often seem spontaneous, long-term lifestyle changes can mitigate their frequency and severity. These habits not only prevent hiccups but also promote overall well-being.

Healthy Life Choices

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is essential for preventing hiccups.

Regular exercise and eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables can promote better overall health.

Avoiding Triggers

It’s important to avoid triggers that can cause hiccups.

Some common triggers include overeating, consuming spicy foods, and sudden changes in temperature.

Reducing Stress

Engaging in relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga may help prevent hiccups triggered by emotional tension. By calming your nervous system, you can reduce the likelihood of hiccups occurring.

Incorporating stress-reduction practices into your daily routine can promote overall well-being and lower the chances of experiencing this temporary, involuntary reflex.

Be Mindful of What You Drink

Monitor your consumption of alcohol and carbonated beverages, as these can contribute to hiccups.

Moderation is key; try to avoid excessive drinking or consuming large quantities of carbonated drinks.

When to See a Doctor

It’s important to know when to consult a healthcare provider for your hiccups. If your hiccups persist for more than 48 hours, it’s time to make an appointment. Persistent or chronic hiccups may indicate an underlying condition that needs attention.

During your appointment, your healthcare provider will evaluate your condition. They may prescribe medications to help manage your hiccups. 

You will be required to undergo a combination of tests and procedures that help the healthcare provider rule out and pinpoint the cause of this symptom.

Remember to discuss any concerns or questions you have with your healthcare provider. They are there to help you understand and manage your symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to cure hiccups in newborns?

For newborns, try to stop hiccups by breastfeeding or giving them some water.

If hiccups persist for more than a couple of hours, consult your healthcare provider.

What is the scientific way to stop hiccups?

One scientific approach involves diaphragmatic breathing: inhale slowly and deeply, then exhale slowly.

Another method is swallowing a teaspoon of granulated sugar, which may stimulate the vagus nerve and stop hiccups.

How can kids get rid of hiccups?

Children can try taking slow, deep breaths, holding their breath for 10 seconds, or sipping cold water.

These techniques help relax the diaphragm, potentially ending hiccups.

What causes persistent hiccups?

Persistent hiccups might be caused by certain medical conditions, medications, or nerve irritation.

If your hiccups last more than 48 hours, consult a healthcare professional.

How long do hiccups typically last?

Hiccups usually last a few minutes. Most often, common hiccups resolve on their own without the need for medical intervention, making them a temporary and minor inconvenience in daily life.