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How to Get Rid of Hiccups: 6 Tips From Doctors

Try these doctor-approved methods to make those pesky hiccups go away.

Sometimes uncomfortable and occasionally a bit embarrassing, getting the hiccups can be a—hic!—surprising interruption. That said, they happen to everyone occasionally, and they're usually no cause for concern. Still, you may be wondering what exactly they are, what causes them, and, of course, how to get rid of hiccups when they occur. Read on to learn doctors' six best tactics for nixing them quickly.

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What Are Hiccups?

Everyone has gotten the hiccups at some point in their lives, but few people understand what actually occurs when they strike.

Raj Dasgupta, MD, chief medical advisor for Fortune Recommends Health, explains that hiccups happen when the diaphragm, the muscle that separates the chest from the belly, suddenly and involuntarily contracts. "When that happens, you take in air, and your voice box closes shut, which is what causes the 'hic' sound," he says.

What Causes Hiccups?

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Most often, hiccups happen in response to minor stimuli.

"The most common causes include having an overly full stomach, drinking soda or other fizzy drinks, and swallowing air (for example, when you are chewing gum)," Dasgupta says, adding that eating spicy food or having acid reflux is also a common trigger. "Of course, sometimes the exact culprit behind your hiccups can be a mystery," he adds.

That said, persistent or intractable hiccups may result from a greater underlying cause. This can include gastrointestinal conditions such as GERD or gastritis, certain lung conditions, chronic illnesses that affect the central nervous system such as Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis, and certain types of cancer, the Cleveland Clinic says.

According to Tori Hartline, DC, MS, a pediatric and prenatal chiropractor and the owner of Sunlife Chiropractic, most hiccups occur "due to a reflex initiated by the brain that affects the diaphragm. This reflex is often triggered when the phrenic, vagus, or sympathetic nerves are irritated," she explains.

How long do hiccups last?

Hiccups are generally short-lived, and they tend to resolve themselves with time. "Most hiccups are fleeting, lasting just a few minutes. However, in rare cases, they can linger for days or even weeks," Dasgupta says.

Is there any way to prevent hiccups?

You can't prevent hiccups with 100 percent accuracy, but you can exercise certain habits that will make them less likely to occur.

"Preventing hiccups is tricky as the triggers can vary. Eating slowly, avoiding carbonated beverages, and managing stress could all help prevent them," Dasgupta says. If you're sensitive to eating spicy foods, avoiding high-heat dishes may also help reduce your incidence of hiccups.

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6 Ways to Get Rid of Hiccups Fast

If you're looking for a fast-acting hiccup cure, there are a few strategies that may help. However, since hiccups typically resolve on their own, it's also perfectly fine to wait out your symptoms.

1. Hold your breath.

woman holding her hands up to her mouth
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One of the first methods to try if you want to get rid of hiccups is to hold your breath for five to 10 seconds.

"While sitting, pull your knees up to your chest and lean forward. Hold this position for 30 seconds to one minute, if possible," Dasgupta recommends.

2. Breathe into a paper bag.

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Experts from Harvard Medical School say that another effective way to curb the hiccups is to breathe into a paper bag. They note that this increases the amount of carbon dioxide you inhale, which reminds your brain to resume normal breathing in order to get more oxygen.

Try to keep the rhythm slow and steady, using deep, diaphragmatic breathing techniques to expand your abdomen rather than your chest with each inhale. "Controlled, deep breathing from the diaphragm can ease spasms," Hartline explains.

3. Gargle with cold water.

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If that doesn't work, you can try gargling with icy cold water, Dasgupta suggests.

"Short-term exposure to cold water can stimulate the vagus nerve, which is the main nerve in the autonomic nervous system that regulates breathing and heart rate. This stimulation can trigger a relaxation response, which can hopefully interrupt those annoying hiccups," the doctor says.

Hartline adds that just splashing cold water on your face can also stimulate the vagus nerve.

4. Distract yourself.

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Sometimes, stopping the hiccups is an issue of mind over matter, says Harvard Health Publishing. Distracting yourself can help them pass more quickly.

Try reading, meditating, listening to a podcast, or tasting a strong flavor (for example, sucking on a lemon)—all of which will get your brain busy with other things.

5. Stimulate the related nerves.

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Hartline says anything you can do to stimulate the nerves associated with the hiccups may help you get relief by relaxing the diaphragm. One way to do this is by stimulating the skin that covers the spinal nerves near the neck by tapping or rubbing the back of the neck.

Another is to stimulate the pharynx—or back of the throat—by gently poking it with a long cotton swab, she says. If the latter feels uncomfortable, humming can send vibrations from your voice box to the vagus nerve, producing a similar effect.

6. Do some low-impact exercise.

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Finally, getting a little bit of physical activity can help lessen your symptoms. "Gentle exercise can help regulate breathing and relax the diaphragm," says Hartline.

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World Records

In extremely rare instances, hiccups have lasted for years—or even decades. According to Guinness World Records, a man named Charles Osborne holds the record for the longest bout of hiccups, having hiccupped without interruption for 68 years, from 1922 to 1990.

FAQ

Are hiccups ever dangerous?

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Hiccups themselves are rarely dangerous. "However, persistent hiccups can interfere with sleep, eating, and be exhausting. If they last for more than 48 hours, it's definitely time to talk to your doctor or healthcare provider," says Dasgupta.

Heather L. Hinshelwood, MD, a board-certified emergency physician and managing owner at the Fraum Center for Restorative Health, says that on occasion, she sees patients who have had hiccups for weeks, uninterrupted.

"When a patient has intractable hiccups—I don't have a great definition for this, but I think having it for more than three days certainly qualifies—we start to ask ourselves what is causing the patient's diaphragm to do this," she tells Best Life. "Is it a tumor coming from the abdomen or the thorax? Is there an infection? Is there a mass pressing on the diaphragmatic nerve?"

Hinshelwood says that for patients presenting with intractable hiccups, she will typically order a CT scan of their abdomen, which also provides a view of the bottom part of the thorax. She will also order labs to evaluate for electrolyte imbalances that could be contributing.

If this workup is negative, Hinshelwood says the best way to relieve symptoms is to prescribe a short-term course of an antipsychotic drug, such as Thorazine or Haloperidol. "I typically give a shot in the emergency department and then give a script for a five-day supply in case it doesn't resolve or recurs," she explains.

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Can Children Get Hiccups?

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Kids can get hiccups just like everyone else—in fact, this can begin before a baby is born while still in the womb. Having hiccups is rarely cause for concern in children, but you should consult a pediatrician if they experience chronic hiccups persisting for more than 48 hours.

Conclusion

Most of the time, hiccups will come and go without any notable cause or repercussions, lasting just a few minutes. However, if you feel your hiccups have persisted for an abnormally long period of time or if they're causing extreme discomfort, it's a good idea to check in with your doctor.

We offer the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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