Hiccups Are Usually Harmless – Here’s How to Get Rid of Them

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

From Women's Health

How to get rid of hiccups is one of those life lessons we all should learn. They are an annoying uncontrollable body function that have a habit of making an appearance at the most inappropriate of moments. Like when you're halfway through a job interview, for example. Or getting up close and personal on a first date.

There's seemingly no rhyme or reason to hiccups, no pattern to what sets them off, and, like flies, you're still trying to work out their place in the world.

Your mum's always told you to hold your breath. Your work colleague swears by peanut butter shots. You've heard that someone once experienced non-stop hiccups for 60 years - could that next someone be you?

Fear not. We asked an expert 'how to get rid of hiccups' so you don't have to. After all, it's not quite the topic for for your 10-minute GP appointment - or is it...?

Read on for the full story on hiccups: what causes them (you could be surprised) and a doctor's recommendations on how to get rid of them.

What Causes Hiccups?

Or singultus as they’re known in the medical community. Hiccups are essentially repetitive, involuntary spasms of the diaphragm.

'Your diaphragm is located near your lungs and controls your breathing,' explains chief medical officer at Now Patient, Dr Andrew Thornber. 'Your diaphragm contracts and takes in oxygen then releases carbon dioxide from your lungs when it relaxes. If your diaphragm gets out of rhythm it can cause hiccups.'

The cause of hiccups?

Anything from a stressful commute to work to winning a cheeky £100 on the Lottery to eating Pret’s Spicy Chicken Hot Wrap on the run.

Triggers for hiccups are believed to involve:

  • Hot or spicy food that irritates the phrenic nerve (a nerve that runs from the oesophagus to the diaphragm)

  • A build-up of gas in the stomach, which then presses on the diaphragm

  • Drinking carbonated beverages

  • Experiencing strong emotions – either happy or sad – or stress

  • Overeating

FYI: there are more serious causes of hiccups – see below. We’ll be looking at how to treat the non-serious type of hiccups in this article.

How to Get Rid of Hiccups: 7 Tried & Tested Hacks

If trying not to think about your hiccups isn’t doing the trick and you don’t fancy rubbing your eyeballs or pulling your tongue (yes, those really are cures you’ll find on Google), give one of Dr Thornber’s suggestions a go.

#disclaimer. The science behind hiccup cures is limited at best, so find what works well for you and just appreciate the magic.

1. Hold your breath

The obvious one – hold your breath, breathe fully out, then repeat three or four times every 20 minutes.

2. Bite on a lemon

This targets the vagus nerve, which runs from the brain to the stomach, stimulating it so it sends signals to the brain telling it to switch its focus from hiccups to the sharp taste, instead.

3. Breathe into a paper bag

Like holding your breath, this trick to get rid of hiccups helps raise the levels of carbon dioxide in the blood, which can inhibit the spasms of the diaphragm.

4. Breathe in a controlled manner

Particularly if you’re hiccups could be the result of anxiety or stress. Try these simple breathing exercises to alleviate your symptoms.

5. Pull your knees up to your chest and lean forward

This helps to compress the chest and place gentle pressure on your diaphragm.

6. Drink a glass of water

A handy distraction technique. Maximise its impact by opting for ice water or applying gentle pressure to your nose as you swallow.

7. Avoid hiccup-inducing foods and drinks

Think spicy food, fizzy drinks, alcoholic beverages and chewing gum. And give up smoking, if you’ve not kicked the habit already; it’s another hiccup trigger.

When Hiccups Could Be a Sign of Something More Serious

Usually hiccups will subside within a few hours. However, if they last more than 48 hours, says Dr Thornber, it may be worth speaking to your GP. Prolonged hiccups could be linked to a variety of factors, including excessive drinking of alcohol, tobacco use and certain medications, or could indicate a throat or eardrum issue, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and even cancer.

“In extremely rare cases, prolonged hiccups may indicate an issue with the central nervous system (CNS) – the brain and spinal cord,” says Dr Thornber. “If your GP suspected this, you would be sent for further tests.”

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