A couple of weeks ago my boyfriend got hiccups that seemed to last forever, much to my childish delight. I rolled around giggling for a while as he got frustrated (I know I have the sense of humour of a three-year-old and a mean streak), then finally took pity and told him to breathe into a paper bag.
"That's amazing!" he said when it cured him almost instantly. "How come I didn't know about that?"
"Beats me," I said smugly. "Maybe you're stupid. It works every time."
"How come?" he asked.
"Because," I replied in my know-it-all voice, "the diaphragm has too much air in it, so it contracts. When you breathe into the bag, you're just circulating the same air."
Frankly, I had no idea if this was true or not, but it sounded good.
According to emedicine.com, "The exact cause (of hiccups, also known as "hiccoughs") remains a mystery despite centuries of contemplation. Hippocrates and Celsus associated them with liver inflammation. Galen believed they were due to violent emotions arousing the stomach.
Interestingly, it seems hiccups serve no purpose. They might be caused by overeating or toxins building up in the blood (i.e., when you're loaded). Longer episodes can be associated with serious illnesses like pneumonia but are often just a puzzle to doctors.
If they last more than three hours or are accompanied by abdominal pain or if you are spitting blood, seek medical attention. (That last one should be an indicator in pretty much any situation.)
What the experts say
"There's a pressure point called jian jing located on the top of your shoulders halfway between your spine and the tip of your shoulder, sort of where the Spock death grip is. You press for 45 seconds to a minute on both sides and the hiccups go away. It can also work for acid reflux or vomiting. That point is also used for inducing labour, so if you're seven months pregnant and you have the hiccups, you might not want to use it."
KALEB MONTGOMERY , doctor of Chinese medicine, Toronto
"Put a teaspoon of sugar on the back of your tongue and let it dissolve. Somehow, it interrupts the hiccops.'
REBECCA KELLY, Feldenkrais Centre, Toronto
"A colleague of mine had someone come in who had chronic hiccups -- I think it was verging on 24 hours. First he did some massage work on the diaphragm muscles . These tuck in under the ribs. You can't get too deep, but he was able to massage a little. Then there are nerves that go to the diaphragm muscles that come out of the mid- to lower part of the neck. He did some soft tissue work there, basic massage around the neck , and he adjusted the neck at the level of the nerve that goes to the diaphragm, and the guy was apparently good to go."
ZACHARY BAIN , chiropractor, Toronto
"I like the good old-fashioned one about scaring people. You just jump out and scare them . I find this works."
ANNA BENEDETTA , psychic, Toronto
"Hiccups are often caused by a temporary failure to relax internal muscles. [Muscle tension may be due to] fear, leading to restricted breathing, or consumption of dry food, creating internal convulsions. For the latter, drink warm water . I use an aquamarine called beryl to calm fears and feelings of helplessness that can cause hiccups. Hiccups will disappear after wearing a necklace of cool blue beryl. You can also lie down and place pieces of petrified wood on your solar plexus . Inhale and exhale slowly through the nose to calm fears and relax spasms."
KAREN RYAN , crystal healer, Toronto
"In reflexology, the diaphragm point is on the sole of the foot, right beneath the ball, at the area where your skin kind of changes colour. Take your thumb and press in all the way along that line on both feet. This might work."
SYLVIA GALLETTA , holistic health practitioner, Toronto
"I know two ways of curing hiccups, one for adults and one for kids. For adults, have them hyperventilate for several breaths and draw in as deep a breath as they can hold. Hold the breath until they feel their diaphragm trying to force them to breath. Then hold it a little longer. Exhale and breathe deeply and regularly. If they hic, repeat. Have kids stand with their feet wide apart. Give them a small cup of water. Tell them to bend over and drink the water upside-down from the far side of the cup. [Spilled water startles the child out of the hics.] It almost always works in one try. This way is the most fun."
JOHN REDDEN , herbalist, Toronto
" I like thinking about the last time I saw a white horse . That works every time. Old-fashioned peppermint is effective. It calms the stomach."
MASINA WRIGHT , naturopath, Toronto