How to Cure the Hiccups

The weirdest, wackiest ways to cure the hiccups — and which way might actually work

You have the most of the pub’s attention. You’re about to make your closing argument on why Val Kilmer was twice the Batman Keaton was, clearly demonstrating your film-nerd brilliance while shaming your debate opponent into submission. Then it happens — the horror. Right in the middle of your "AND Robin is underrated!" point your body betrays you. In one uncontrollable move you gasp, suck in, and let out a noticeable "HIIICCC!!" In this one moment, your credibility is shot. People start to turn away, you hear mutterings of "had too many" or "clearly, it’s the drink talking," and now no one takes your defense of Val seriously. Damn you, hiccups. Damn you.

How did this happen, and why does it seem to happen more when you’re drinking? Scientists will tell you hiccups are the result of complex motor actions that, interestingly, only milk-drinking mammals can do. Because of this, it is thought hiccups evolved as a mechanism to get air out of the stomach that may accumulate during suckling. When you hiccup, your brain coordinates the sudden contraction of your diaphragm muscles that are involved in breathing. Just after the contraction, the vocal cords close off, creating the telltale "hic" sound. Your phrenic nerves control this diaphragm and when they get irritated the hiccups begin.

Unfortunately, there is a long list of things that can set them off, and several items on that list are invoked when drinking. Alcohol itself is a known hiccup-instigator, and so is the expanding and contracting of the stomach muscles that occur when you are filling your belly with vast amounts of carbonated liquid. Stomach acids tend to build up as you drink, and as these acids creep into your esophagus they can irritate the nerves that set off hiccups. While drinking alcoholic beverages may not be the only thing that causes hiccups, it sure doesn’t help.

Now, we turn to our staff of medical experts for remedies proven by science to work every time! ...And find there are none. Modern science has yet to produce a hiccup cure that works for every situation, but the world has no shortage of remedies you might want to try. The list reads like the catalog of a 19th-century traveling medicine show (with leaches and X-rays omitted), but given the annoyance hiccups can cause, some of these may be worth a try.

Somewhat Reasonable Sounding Remedies

    • Holding your breath
    • Induced sneezing
    • Breathing into a bag
    • Drinking water while covering your ears
    • Drinking water while breathing through your nose
    • Pulling your tongue
    • Pressing on the eyeballs
    • Sudden fright
    • Eating dry granulated sugar
    • Eating a teaspoon of honey
    • Bitters on a lemon wedge, popped into your mouth like a tequila shot
    • Sucking on an ice cube

Slightly Questionable Remedies

    • Drinking water with a chopstick holding down your tongue
    • Drinking water upside down
    • Purchasing a Hic-Cup for $16.97
    • Giving yourself the Heimlich maneuver
    • Using a broomstick to press on your diaphragm
    • Getting hypnotized
    • Trying acupuncture

You’re Seriously Desperate If You Need to Try These Remedies
(Important note: we do not recommend any of these. Just deal with the hiccups instead, right?)

    • Taking chlorpromazine
    • Tickling the pharynx with a catheter stuck through the nose
    • Blister or burn the skin above the phrenic nerve on the neck and back
    • Getting an implantable breathing pacemaker
    • Getting a vagus nerve stimulator implanted that  zaps your vagus nerve with electric impulses

— Brandon M. Gallagher Watson, The Drink Nation

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