A lot of people wonder how to stop hiccups fast. Actually, hiccups don’t require special attention because they go away in a few minutes or hours. Admittedly, they can be annoying and uncomfortable. In today’s article, we’ll talk about how to get rid of hiccups instantly using different hiccup remedies.
What are hiccups and why do we hiccup?
Hiccup is a sudden, involuntary spasm. They happen when your diaphragm, a dome-shaped thin layer of fibrous tissue and muscle that separates the belly from the chest, abruptly and involuntarily tightens. The vocal cords snap shut and producing the hiccup sound.
What causes hiccups?
Some of the reasons why a person may experience hiccups are:
- Eating foods and beverages that are spicy or hot
- Breathing in harmful smoke
- Full stomach
- Brain tumor
- Emotional stress
- Irritation or damage of the vagus nerves
- Swallowing air
- Drinking alcoholic or carbonated beverages
As I’ve said, you normally don’t have to worry about hiccups. But if it lasts longer than 48 hours, which is called intractable or persistent hiccup, you should consult your doctor as soon as you can.
How do you get rid of hiccups will highly depend on the root cause. Pharmacological or complementary therapies may be used. Here are some of them.
How to get rid of hiccups in infants and adults quickly
Tip #1: Digital Rectal Massage
One of the main causes of persistent hiccups is damaged or irritated vagus nerves, also called phrenic nerves and cranial nerve X. Vagus nerves, which are composed of two nerves, begin in the brain and pass through the neck, chest, and belly. Some of the vital functions the vagus nerves control or coordinate are:
- Voice cords (larynx) opening during inhalation
- Stimulation of the lungs and stomach.
Researchers believe that intentionally over stimulating the vagus nerves is a reliable treatment for persistent hiccups by jamming the signals to the larynx. So, what’s an effective way to do this?
A study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine suggests digital rectal massage as a cure for intractable hiccups. It may sound repulsive, but it’s proven to be effective, at least in that study.
You see, after a nasogastric tube was inserted into an elderly man with acute pancreatitis, he developed persistent hiccups. When a digital rectal massage was done, the hiccups suddenly stopped and recurred a few hours after. Again, they were stopped using digital rectal massage, which didn’t recur anymore. Thus, researchers suggested doing this maneuver before resorting to meds.
Besides, most medications used to treat intractable hiccups could cause mild to potentially dangerous side effects. For instance, chlorpromazine (Thorazine) could cause uncontrollable lips, arms, face, or eyes spasms. A few of the side effects of prochlorperazine (Compazine) are dry mouth, dizziness, and congested nose.
Why does this maneuver work?
It’s really not that clear yet how a vagus nerve stimulation could help to treat hiccups. Researchers say that it’s because you can find parasympathetic and sympathetic nerves in the rectum (end portion of the large intestine). And by stimulating the rectum, the pressure passes through the parasympathetic nerves (which are responsible for slowing different body functions) would lead to an increased vagus nerve tone, which stops an episode of hiccups.
How to Do a Rectal Massage
You can do this using a lubricated digital thermometer or finger. Insert into your rectum, and then palpate or slowly perform a circular motion.
Tip #2: Holding Your Breath
While there are no solid scientific studies to back it up, breath-holding remains a popular method for stopping hiccups in their tracks. In fact, in a 2014 survey published in the TODAY website, 36% of the respondents hold their breath to get rid of their hiccups.
Like breathing through a paper bag, this technique works by producing a mild case of respiratory acidosis, which causes carbon dioxide accumulation in the blood stream. This is thought to cause the rhythm of the vagus nerves to normalize.
To do this, simply hold your breath for as long as you possibly can. You can repeat this for many times if ever the hiccups should start again. But here are some of the important things to take note of before doing this:
- If you have any heart problems, like arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythm), you should skip this technique. Holding your breath for too long could cause your heart rate to slow down.
- Elevated levels of carbon dioxide in the blood could cause the following mild symptoms: sluggishness, confusion, headache, and touchiness.
Tip #3: Intranasal Vinegar
It seems like a lot of people find this highly effective against persistent hiccups. It doesn’t really matter whether you use a plain vinegar or an apple cider vinegar. There’s really no fixed time when to do this, but it may be a good idea to do this before meals to avoid triggering another bout of hiccups.
How to cure hiccups with vinegar
- Mix 2 ½ tablespoons of vinegar with approximately 1 cup of warm water. Press one of your nostrils closed , and then breathe in a small amount of this mixture, around a teaspoon or tablespoon. Tilt back your head to allow the mixture drip to your throat. Repeat this process on the other nostril. You could also use a neti pot for this purpose.
- You can also gulp down one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or distilled vinegar.
Based on people’s feedbacks, they felt relief within 15 to 30 minutes after gulping or introducing vinegar to their nostrils.
So, does vinegar really help to treat hiccups?
In one report, a little girl with a severe form of mental retardation, epilepsy, and cerebral palsy was suffering from hiccups for more than 2 years. Her hiccups usually lasted for one hour or more and weren’t responsive to standard medicines. The only thing that gave her relief was using intranasal vinegar.
It’s thought to work because it helps stimulate the upper back part of your nasopharynx, a part in your mouth wherein your mouth is connected to your throat. This portion is where you’ll find the pharyngeal branch of the vagus nerve.
Contraindications and Warnings
- Remember to dilute liquid or pill apple cider vinegar to avoid damaging your tooth enamel and digestive tract.
- People with low potassium levels (hypokalemia), osteoporosis, and other meds should use this cautiously.
Tip #4: Yoga Therapy
In one case report, a guy in his late twenties was plagued by a series of stubborn hiccups. Yoga therapy was used to treat his condition.
Just after a month of using yoga therapy, the frequency of his hiccups were reduced. His hiccup-free state remained for two years.
One yoga exercise that’s recommended for hiccups is Pranayama (“Prana” means breath), which helps by opening your vocal cords by easing muscle spasms. Pranayama is composed of breathing techniques used for overall physical and mental wellness.
Here are some major types of Pranayama techniques:
- Nadi Sodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing) – This technique is super easy to do, but it’s powerful enough to cause a mind and body relaxation.
- Shitali Pranayama (Cooling Breath) – As the name hints, this breathing technique is used to cool the body. It also helps to quiet the mind and remove harmful toxins from the body.
- Kapalabhati Pranayama (Skull Shining Breath) – This fast breathing technique involves the short bursts of exhalation, and then followed by normal inhalation.
- Bhastrika Pranayama (The Bellows Breath) – This breathing technique is perfect for fighting off diseases and stress.
- Bahaya Pranayama (The External Breath) – This could help treat various diseases or disorders, like diabetes, urinary system problems, and blockage of the fallopian tubes.
There’s really no specific Pranayama technique suitable for making hiccups go away. But for starters, you can do the simplest technique, which is the Nadi Sodhana. Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Find a peaceful and comfortable place, and then cross your legs.
Step 2: Using the thumb on your left hand, close your left nostril.
Step 3: Inhale deeply using your right nostril.
Step 4: With your right nostril closed, breathe out on your left nostril.
Repeat this process starting with your right nostril. You can do this breathing exercise for up to ten times.
Reminders and Tips:
- Do Pranayama yoga with an empty stomach.
- Early morning is usually the best time to do it. You could also do this early in the evening.
- Make sure to find a peaceful spot where you could sit comfortably on a folded blanket.
Tip #5: Lemon Wedge with Angostura Bitters
Sucking on a slice of lemon with bitters to cure hiccups is really not something new, at least for bartenders. According to a report published in The New York Times, this has a success rate of 88%. This tip actually came from the letter of Dr. Jay Howard Herman and David S. Nolan, an ex-bartender, to The New England Journal of Medicine.
There were 16 individuals who tried this approach. Out of that 16, 14 of them who ate a lemon wedge soaked in Angostura bitters got rid of their hiccups within 60 seconds for at least two hours, or up to a month for those who received this treatment more than once. (Angostura Bitters is a concentrated liquid and food flavoring that contains alcohol, water, spices, and herbs.)
However, here’s the thing. The hiccups of the participants were induced by alcohol (ethanol), which was not responsive to conventional treatments.
If you can stomach it, try sucking on a bitters-soaked lemon slice that has the same size as those served in bars. Avoid eating the rind and, if you like, add sugar to make the taste more bearable. Don’t forget to drink water or rinse your mouth of the acid in the lemon, which could erode your teeth enamel.
It’s still unclear how this approach can help to get rid of hiccups. But it’s believed that lemon and bitters work to ease hiccups by relaxing the diaphragm.
Tip #6: Sexual Intercourse
Like other hiccup remedies, it’s still not yet clear to researchers how sexual intercourse can exactly make those annoying hiccups go away.
Allow me to briefly tell you the story behind this growing belief that sexual intercourse is a possible alternative to conventional treatments.
There was this forty-year-old man who suffered from low back pain. After a couple of weeks of enduring his condition, he consulted a neurologist and even resorted to alternative medicine, like swabbing a cotton bud to the soft palate of his mouth for one minute. Unfortunately, nothing worked.
Here’s the interesting part. On the fourth day, he had sexual intercourse with his wife. Oh, the hiccups were still there during the act. At the time of ejaculation, his hiccups fully and abruptly stopped and didn’t come back for more than a year.
Bottom line: Orgasm could be your best (and most pleasurable) weapon against those pesky hiccups.
Tip #7: Acupuncture
We all know that acupuncture helps in a lot of problems that concern our health. Although, it’s rarely reported that it could also help with hiccups.
Traditional healers in China believe that hiccups are closely linked to our stomach and Rebellious Qi, which is a kind of condition that only happens when the energy (qi) flow of a certain body organ deviates from its normal course. The role of acupuncture then is to restore the normal direction of the energy of this organ.
Scientists don’t really have a concrete explanation how acupuncture can ease the hiccups. However, there are a number of studies that have suggested using acupuncture as a non-pharmacologic treatment for persistent hiccups.
Investigative Study #1
In a 2010 study, researchers wanted to know the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating 16 male cancer patients (ages 27 to 71) with persistent hiccups. The patients underwent one to three sessions of acupuncture for up to one week.
The results were positive. Out of the 16, 13 patients were completely free from persistent hiccups. The researchers also observed that the patients were more energetic and distress-free. This result suggested that acupuncture is a clinically safe, effective, and affordable treatment for hiccups in cancer patients.
Investigative Study #2
After suffering from a heart attack, an elderly man age seventy-seven suddenly developed a case of hiccups. He tried taking meds and other natural alternative methods, such as breath-holding. Sadly, none of those could make his hiccups go away for seven days. It was only when he tried acupuncture in the seventh cervical spine (GV14) that he felt complete relief.
If you don’t like the idea of sticking needles to your body, you may want to try Korean hand acupuncture. I read that it offers results in just two sessions.
Tip #8: Drinking Cold Water with Pressed Ear Tragi
Why does this approach work? It treats hiccups through vagal stimulation. There’s a good amount of vagus nerve running from your brain down to your stomach. When you drink a lot of water, you’re unknowingly stimulating your vagus nerve, thus your hiccups stop.
This approach was actually mentioned in a report by Ronald Goldstein, a Canada-based flight surgeon and medical officer. He said that this was described to him by a retired English physician, who has tried it on stubborn hiccups during social events and his medical practice.
How to treat hiccups with cold water:
- Pour cold water in a tall cup
- Next, sip the cold water using a straw while inwardly pressing your ears’ tragi, the fleshy and small prominence found at the front part of your external ear opening, in order to completely seal your ear canal.
- Alternatively, ask a friend to press your ears’ tragi, so you can drink the cold water straight from the glass.
Is this safe? Generally, yes. There are no safety concerns, unless you have some kind of medical condition, like something that involves your heart, which restricts the amount of liquids you should drink.
Tip #9: Muscle Relaxant Herbs
There’s really no direct evidence that herbs could work on hiccups. But they’re worth a try, if you have tried everything with no effects.
As you know, hiccups occur when your diaphragm, which is a large layer of muscle, suddenly contracts (spasms). You could try herbs that contain properties that promote mind and muscle relaxation, such as chamomile, passion flower, valerian root, kava-kava, and hops.
Peppermint, for instance, has been used for decades in foods and medicinal concoctions. Normally, peppermint is consumed after eating to prevent or treat an indigestion or a spasm of the large intestine.
To stop uncoordinated muscle contractions, mix five drops of peppermint oil in 10ml of water. On the other hand, you could steep one bag of peppermint tea in 1 cup of boiled water for 10 minutes. Drink it up to five times daily in between meals. [Source: University of Maryland Medical Center]
Note: Don’t take muscle relaxant herbs if you plan to do activities that require mental alertness, like driving, and in combination with other sedative drugs. These herbs could cause drowsiness.
One of the good teas that are recommended for hiccups is dill (Anethum graveolens) tea. It’s prepared by boiling dill seeds in 1 cup of water for 3 to 4 minutes. If possible, drink this without adding any sweeteners.
Dill contains different compounds, such as proteins, antioxidants, minerals, and essential fatty oils, which enable it to fight off bacteria, pain, muscle spasms, and inflammation. It’s even given to babies to soothe or cure gripes (colic or pain due to abdominal cramping) and hiccups.
Tip #10: Consuming One Spoon of Sugar
Again, it’s not exactly backed up by any scientific studies, but a lot of people use this for their hiccups. There’s one study that showed eating granulated sugar was effective in 19 out of 20 people. Like other hiccup remedies, this is believed to stimulate the vagus nerve.
This approach doesn’t really require any special tools or preparations. You can either swallow a spoonful of granulated sugar or tilt your head back and pour sugar into your mouth. Drinking a glass of water to wash down the sugar is optional.
How to get rid of hiccups in infants
- Try breastfeeding a baby or offering a bottle. Swallowing and sucking will help to stop the hiccups. Sucking on a pacifier will have the same effect.
- If the baby is old enough to eat solids, give him/her something to eat. Swallowing the food may relax the diaphragm and stop the hiccups.
- Give the child some water to drink from the sippy cup (if the baby is old enough).
- Your child may be suffering with hiccups caused by reflux after eating. In this case, try to hold your baby upright for 30 minutes after every feeding.
- Massage your baby. Gently rub the baby’s back to relax the muscles which will help the diaphragm to relax as well.
- If nothing works, then just wait it out. Hiccups will eventually go away on their own.
The bottom line with hiccup remedies
Besides from being annoying, there are deeper reasons why hiccups should be given special attention. They may eventually affect your physical and mental health. They could cause anxiety (or even depression), poor sleeping patterns, dehydration, and weight loss due to eating interruptions.
There are still no natural remedies that are proven by science to work against acute (lasting a few minutes to hours) and chronic hiccups (lasting two days or more). Most of these remedies are divided into two broad categories:
- The first category is done to intentionally increase the level of carbon dioxide in the blood, so the body will focus on removing the excess carbon dioxide and resume normal respiration.
- The second category stimulates the vagus nerve, which supplies nerve fibers to the esophagus, heart, vocal cords (larynx), throat (pharynx), intestines, and lungs.
Trivia: Charles Osborne from Iowa suffered from hiccups for 69 years and 5 months. He did all pharmacological and non-pharmacological measures to ease his condition, but nothing worked.
If none of these home remedies work for you, please consult your doctor immediately. A serious health condition, like a brain tumor, may be causing your hiccups. Doctors normally prescribe sedatives, anti-psychotics, and gastrointestinal stimulants for this condition. The drug of choice is Thorazine (chlorpromazine). Surgery may also be done on your phrenic nerve.
I hope you found this article educational and fun to read. I sincerely hope you’ll find that one effective cure to stop the hiccups for good.
Do you have other proven and safe methods for stopping hiccups? Don’t forget to share them below. I’d love to hear your tips and advice on how to stop hiccups fast.