A Cure for Hiccups (Hiccoughs)

One afternoon in the early 1980s, I started hiccuping. I knew from previous experience that I’d probably be stuck with the attack for an hour or so. As I’d nothing better to do, I thought about how I might stop the attack. I knew that the various Old Wives’ Tales like drinking water from the wrong side of the glass were a waste of time so I went back to what causes them. I recalled the Radio Doctor saying some thirty years earlier that they were the result of a sort of valve getting stuck, I guess in an open position. (It’s a good job that I didn’t know that thirty years on, the medical profession wouldn’t have a clue what the cause was.)

It seemed to me that as the body was taking in sudden gulps of air to shut the valve, the repeats were due to the gulps not being of sufficient force to effect a cure. I therefore resolved to give the hiccups a bit of a help by starting to breathe in hard when a hiccup was due. I timed the hiccups – they were about 6 seconds apart – and prepared to experiment with my attempted cure.

After a hiccup, I breathed out hard and held my breath whilst counting down the time. After 5 seconds had passed, I started to breathe in hard through my mouth. The next hiccup came on time but, instead of the usual quiet “hic”, I made a loud squawk like a startled parrot. I breathed out again, held my breath, breathed in when the next hiccup was due – and breathed in until I had to stop. The hiccups had stopped. I now knew what to do the next time an attack started. But I was in for a surprise!

In the thirty years or so since I found that cure, I have not had a single attack of hiccups. I assume that my body has learnt how much force is needed to flip the valve. Instead, I usually get one loud hiccup (or squawk) which puts things right with no need for repeats. I must admit, however, that over the past year or two I have sometimes needed a second one to complete the job; I guess the effect is beginning to wear off.

Although I pooh-poohed the idea of using Old Wives’ remedies, I found out a couple of years ago that there may be a connection between one of them and my cure. I was in a pub discussing the fight-or-flight response – don’t ask why, I’ve no idea – when the person with whom I was talking mentioned that the first automatic response in such a situation is to take a sharp intake of breath. I realised that this could mean that a properly-timed fright could effect a cure. Mind you, if you’re on your own during an attack, giving yourself a sudden fright could be a problem.

So, to summarise, here’s the cure:

(1) Time your hiccups.

(2) Breathe out hard whilst starting a countdown to the next one.

(3) Hold your breath.

(4) Start to breath in hard through the mouth just before the next one’s due.

Side effects, if it works, are that you’ll not have another attack but your occasional single hiccup may be a real head-turner.

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