Hiccups are annoying, sometimes even painful, and typically result in people "hilariously" trying to scare the hell out of you. Everyone thinks their hiccup cure of choice is the best one ever, when more often than not they just leave you with water all over your shirt/a bunch of sugar in your mouth. Does that mean there really isn’t one, though?
We asked Dr. Lisa Ganjhu, a gastroenterologist and clinical associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center, to find out if there really is a perfect cure, and if so, what it might be.
First of all, what the hell is a hiccup anyway?
“Basically a hiccup is more of a neurological thing in the sense there's an irritation on the Vagus nerve. Anything that irritates that nerve causes hiccups. There are uncoordinated and coordinated muscle contractions of the diaphragm and of the epiglottis, that’s what makes the sound. It’s the air that rushes through a small area. So anything that irritates that diaphragm like eating too fast or a reflux, can cause the irregular contractions and therefore hiccups.”
So is there actually a cure for hiccups?
“Not really, because it’s not a disease.”
Well, shit. What do we DO?
“There are a few mechanisms to help stop it. Everyone has heard all the old wives tales like holding our breath, and holding sugar or a lemon in your mouth. But honestly the real mechanism here is just anything to distract you. Anything that breaks that cycle of abnormal contraction of the diaphragm is going to stop it, so that’s why it’s really a distraction. Like drinking water from the other side of the glass, it just takes our mind off of it and therefore resets it.”
Is there really no science behind these remedies?
“It’s hard to say if it’s purely the distraction or actually the process of resetting your diaphragm. The process itself becomes an endless loop, and the hiccups are bringing more air into the stomach, and it becomes a vicious cycle. So yes, scientifically, anything that can break that twitch is going to help. When you’re holding your breath you’re holding the diaphragm against its will, that will break the cycle of jumping up and down. But that’s really all a distraction, too.”
Can hiccups actually become dangerous?
“Yes. There are cases in which people have lasting hiccups, because you keep swallowing air, and as the stomach fills up with air, it causes more irritation to the diaphragm because it is right on top of your stomach. In those cases there are certain medications to break that cycle. Sometime there are tumors and cancers that can cause irritation to the diaphragm that can cause hiccups as well. This can be when hiccups go on for hours and hours or days. Anything longer than a day should definitely be evaluated for one of those other causes. Because most of the time hiccups break in just a few minutes or so.”
What do you do to cure your own hiccups?
“I do the hold your breath thing; I’ve never done anything else. It takes my mind off of it. Like I said, a big dose of distraction goes a long way.”
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Liz Newman is a freelance writer for Thrillist and once hid in her roommate’s closet for 20 minutes to scare her. She didn’t actually have the hiccups, but man it was hilarious. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @lizn813.