Everyone experiences hiccups from time to time, especially after eating too much food or drinking too much alcohol. But some people get hiccups frequently for no apparent reason, and the attacks can last a long time and be distressing.
Why hiccups occur
An ancient throwback?
Triggers for hiccups
- sudden expansion of the stomach by swallowing air while eating
- sudden expansion of the stomach by excessive eating or drinking
- eating foods that are too hot or too cold
- fizzy drinks
- sudden excitement or emotional stress
- acid reflux from the stomach.
- conditions that irritate nerves to the diaphragm (such as an enlarged thyroid)
- some medications (such as methyldopa for blood pressure, some tranquillizers)
- uncommonly, a low level of salt in the blood.
How to stop an attack of hiccups
Everyone has their favourite method for curing hiccups. Next time you have an attack try one of the following.
- Find a drinking straw, and fill a glass with water. Then press on the front of your ears to close the earhole, and drink the entire glass of water without a pause. If you do not have a straw, ask a friend to press on the front of your ears while you drink from the glass without pausing (British Medical Journal 2006;333:1127).
- Pull your tongue fairly forcefully.
- Use a teaspoon to lift the uvula. This is the fleshy tag that hangs down from the back of the roof of the mouth [look at the section on snoring for a picture].
- Use a cotton wool bud to tickle the roof of your mouth, at the point towards the back where the hard roof becomes softer.
- Hold your breath for as long as possible, then swallow when you feel a hiccup is about to come.
- Pant deeply.
- Breathe into a paper bag ten times, holding the edges of the bag tightly against your face to make a good seal.
- Swallow while holding your nose closed.
- Take a teaspoonful of sugar, swallowed dry.
- Gargle with water mixed with vinegar.
- Bend forward and drink water from the wrong side of a glass.
- Chew and swallow some dry bread.
- Pull your knees up or lean forward to squeeze your chest.
Frequent, distressing hiccups
Written by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Edited by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Last updated: Thursday, June 2nd 2011
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Charles Osbourne, an American, hiccuped for 69 years and 9 months, from 1922 until his death in 1991
Babies in the womb start hiccuping from the age of only 8 weeks
Persistent hiccups are more likely in men than women
Persistent hiccups usually decrease or disappear during sleep, but resume when the person wakes
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