Friday, May 17, 2024

QUICK, PULL MY FINGER! – A Sure Cure For the Hiccups

I don’t think there’s another of the human body’s many quirks that’s quite as quirky as hiccups. I dare say we’ve all experienced them, from the momentary one that feels a little like a burp, to a continuous, hour-long assault. From a gentle “hic” to a full-throated, chest-clutching, inhaled honk.

Singultus (the medical term for hiccups) starts with the diaphragm, a thin, dome-shaped muscle below your lungs and heart. Attached to the sternum, the bottom of the rib cage and the spine, it acts like a bellows to power respiration, expanding and contracting when you breathe.

Hiccups happen when the diaphragm spasms in response to air getting trapped in your throat. That forces your vocal cords to contract and produce that distinct “hic,” followed by the lesser sound of them relaxing. (This makes “hiccup” an onomatopoeia. )

The condition, while usually benign and short-lived, can be a symptom of more serious illness—pneumonia, uremia, alcoholism, disorders of the stomach, diaphragm or esophagus, or even some bowel diseases. Certain psychological or emotional conditions can also contribute to its occurrence.

Most mammals—all those with diaphragms—hiccup. Some scientists have postulated that the action may be an evolutionary relic from amphibian respiration.
             Among the strange cures: having
             someone pull on your ring finger.

Hiccups are classified as transient (occasional episodes lasting seconds or minutes), persistent (occasional episodes longer than 48 hours), recurrent (repetitive bouts lasting longer than transient hiccups), and intractable (essentially nonstop occurrence) Long bouts can be treated with medication, but there is still no definitive cure. *

Charles Osborne

Some people have endured non-stop hiccups for as long as decades. The official record is held by American Charles Osborne who lived with them for 68 years, from 1922 to 1990. **

In some cultures, folks believe they get the hiccups when someone not present is talking about them or missing them. In others, they’re said to be the work of elves. The notion that a sudden scare will drive out the affliction has been thoroughly debunked.

As many types and causes of hiccups as there are, there are even more remedies. Among the strangest are:
     • Saying the Lord’s Prayer backwards
     • Drinking water from a glass covered with a paper towel
     • Drinking lemon juice
     • Having someone pull on your ring finger
     • Massaging the roof of your mouth with your tongue ***

Some of these strange cures are based on superstition or spiritual beliefs; some are believed to be psychosomatic; but there are also many that actually physically affect the underlying cause of the diaphragm’s spasms.

        I’ve offered this sweet miracle to
        dozens of people…and it’s never failed.

I have one simple go-to cure and one that’s more exotic. At least for me, they’re both foolproof. Next time you get an episode, give them a try.

The first involves simply cutting my lungs’ intake of oxygen. Most proponents suggest a long, gradual drink of water or breathing into a bag for a while. My mother swore by a cure that involved a bit more discipline: simply holding one’s breath while swallowing one’s own saliva ten times as quickly as possible. I use this method all the time, since it’s perfectly self-contained and you can do it nearly anywhere.

If you’re suffering an especially strong attack, the spasms might break through your efforts to swallow them. But keep at and it eventually works.

Most of these tricks work by increasing carbon dioxide levels in the lungs, which is believed to relax the diaphragm, which stops the spasms. (I think the swallowing part also helps by interrupting the hiccup reflex.)


The sexier hiccup remedy I use just blows people’s minds—it makes a fabulous party trick. I’m so confident in it that I challenge folks: If my treatment doesn’t stop so-and-so’s hiccups in their tracks, each of you coughs up a buck, okay?

Once we’ve confirmed the intransigence of the victim’s singultus—and my suckers’ commitment—I ask for some sugar and a spoon. Regular old white, granulated sugar. I pour a rounded teaspoon of it, hand it to the patient and instruct them to pop it in their mouth and simply swallow it as quickly as they can.

It’s hard to swallow dry sugar. Maybe that’s part of the remedy; it completely distracts a person from the hiccups. Whatever it is, once that sugar’s down, there will be no more hiccups. Not one.

I’ve offered this sweet miracle to dozens of people—and done it for myself many times—and it’s never failed.

I’m sure we’d all love to hear of your especially memorable hiccups attacks, and any cures you’ve found effective—the quirkier, the better.

onomatopoeia: a word formed to sound like the thing it describes

** Guinness Book of World Records
*** Farmers Almanac