How to Get Rid of Hiccups: 12 Remedies That Could Work for You

Easy fixes for when your diaphragm won't stop croaking.

Hiccups happen to almost everyone. Still, they're annoying. And if hiccups don't go away fast, they can become uncomfortable, even embarrassing. Even though we've all likely experienced them before, what are hiccups, anyway?

"A hiccup occurs when there is a spasm or contraction of the muscles in between the ribs and the diaphragm, which is the largest muscle responsible for breathing," Jason McKnight, MD, clinical assistant professor in the department of primary care and population health at the College of Medicine at Texas A&M University told Health.

During one of these spasms, you suck in air. That air passes through the vocal cords, resulting in the telltale hiccup sound, Jennifer Boozer, DO, family medicine specialist with Keck Medicine at the University of Southern California, told Health.

Hiccups are involuntary and something you can't readily control. "It's thought that a hiccup is a 'reflex' that occurs in the body," said Dr. McKnight.

How to Get Rid of Hiccups
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What Causes Hiccups?

Experts aren't totally sure they know all the reasons why hiccups happen, said Dr. Boozer. In general, things that irritate the diaphragm or the nerves that connect to the diaphragm (called the phrenic and vagus nerves) can lead to hiccups, according to Medline Plus. Those include eating or drinking too fast, sipping carbonated beverages or alcohol, and being stressed out or really excited.

Certain medical conditions, such as acid reflux, can be a trigger, and hiccups could be a side effect of certain medications, said Dr. Boozer. One of the most well-known hiccup-causing meds are benzodiazepines, which are used to treat anxiety, according to the National Library of Medicine (NLM).

How To Get Rid of Hiccups

Most of the time, hiccups will go away within several minutes, said Dr. Boozer. So typically, you don't have to do anything to make them disappear except wait. "Sometimes, ignoring hiccups is the best thing you can do," said Dr. Boozer. "They usually don't last very long and typically go away on their own."

However, let's say you have a Zoom presentation to give in five minutes, and you'd rather not hiccup between every sentence in front of your colleagues. What can you do to nip them in the bud? Home remedies include:

  • Taking deep, slow breaths
  • Drinking water or ice water
  • Gargling
  • Letting someone or something scare you
  • Biting into a lemon
  • Holding your breath for 5-10 seconds
  • Pulling on your tongue
  • Blowing up a balloon
  • Breathing into a paper bag
  • Sitting down and pulling your knees to your chest for one minute
  • Putting a cold compress on your face

You might also try the valsava maneuver, said Dr. McKnight. To do it, pinch your nose and hold your breath, then force yourself to exhale and bear down as if you're going to poop. Hold for about 10 seconds. This might be one you want to attempt if you're at home by yourself versus in public, though.

Unfortunately, experts say that none of these "cures" emerge as the winning remedy. But the good news is, they might get rid of your hiccups, and most are safe to try, said Dr. McKnight.

While these remedies sound rather random, they all tap into a couple of mechanisms, said Dr. Boozer. They either disrupt the pattern of diaphragm spasms (such as holding your breath) or irritate the phrenic or vagus nerves to disrupt the nerve impulse (such as putting a cold compress on your face or gargling).

In the case of pulling your knees up to your chest, this might work by putting pressure on the diaphragm, notes a 2015 systematic review of hiccup cures in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics. (BTW, the author of that study said that exhaling and then holding your breath was their preferred cure.)

Speaking of attempting these remedies, not everyone should try them. Dr. McKnight noted that "if you have cardiac or respiratory disease, where shortness of breath is common, then it might not be a good idea to attempt holding your breath for a long period of time." If you're not sure if a remedy is safe for you, consult your healthcare provider first.

How To Prevent Hiccups

If you get hiccups often, pay attention to when you're getting them in the first place. "If you notice that you tend to have hiccups in similar situations—overeating, consuming spicy foods, exposure to irritants—then you may have to avoid those situations going forward if the hiccups are truly a nuisance to you," said Dr. McKnight. Should you notice that stress sets off your hiccups, consider slowing down and building more opportunities for self-care.

When To See a Healthcare Provider for Hiccups

It's rare, but sometimes serious medical conditions can cause hiccups, said Dr. McKnight. Those can be problems with the central nervous system or even a tumor.

If your hiccups don't go away within a few days or keep coming back, you may be experiencing chronic hiccups, according to Medline Plus. Chronic hiccups can interfere with your sleep, eating, drinking, and talking. If you have chronic hiccups, contact your health care provider. Your provider might decide to run additional tests to determine if a disease or disorder is the cause.

For chronic hiccups, your healthcare provider may perform gastric lavage or massage of the carotid sinus in the neck, per Medline Plus. This must be done by a provider. Do not attempt to do the massage on your own. Other methods a healthcare provider might suggest are medicines or tube insertion into the stomach (nasogastric intubation) may help.

Indeed, hiccups aren't just a small problem—they can take a real toll on your quality of life when you have them, points out a 2019 review in the journal Current Oncology Reports. Dr. Boozer agreed: "Long-term, hiccups can cause disruption through trouble eating and sleeping. We want to make sure that nothing more serious is going on. It's important to get medical attention because in rare cases, they do last a long time."

And who knows? Maybe your hiccups went away during the time it took you to read this. You're welcome.

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