Modern Mythology


Hiccups* are pretty freaking annoying, in my experience. Sometimes you hiccup a couple of times and they go away by themselves, but sometimes they stick around for a bit longer than is usually considered comfortable. Prolonged hiccups can become a major medical problem.

So what are hiccups, and what causes them? Hiccups occur when a spasm contracts the diaphragm, which causes an intake of breath that is suddenly stopped by the closure of the vocal cords. It is this closure that makes the characteristic “hiccup” sound. The underlying mechanisms for what causes this is not well understood, but some things that are thought to contribute include eating or drinking too much or too quickly, hyperventilation, laughing, anxiety, or a rapid change in stomach temperature.

And, ah, a cure? This is where it gets funny. When I was a kid I remember having all sorts of things that we thought cured hiccups– a good fright, drinking a glass of water while doing a handstand (or at the very least upside down), taking lots of deep breaths, etc. etc. etc.

This site lists 250 cures for hiccups, while this site has 78, including (amongst many others) the incredibly bizarre “Rotation Method”:

1.Pinch your nose together
2. Spin around in a clockwise direction while singing “Row row row your boat”
3. Continue this until you’ve sang the song 5 times
4. Immediately begin spinning around in a counterclockwise direction while singing “Mary had a little lamb”
5. Continue this until you’ve sang the song 5 times
6. Repeat until hiccups subside
7. Singing the songs is for timing as well as inhaling as well as exhaling in a powerful manner.


You can even buy gadgets that claim to be “clinically proven effective” by “harness[ing] the unfailing power of galvanic action and science-based natural healing.” Right. Okay. They have a How It Works page, and it seems to me that they drop in a lot of jargon-y sounding buzz-words to make it sound scientific, but hey maybe I’m wrong about that.

Honest, this was the most confusing thing to research, because as far as I can tell, these ‘cures’ are all old-wives tales. When I tried searching for clinical studies, they mostly just seemed to be case studies of very serious, prolonged bouts of hiccups and the treatments were “of serious underlying causes of the episode as well as therapeutic interventions.” plus loads of other medspeak that I don’t at all have the inclination to get into because if your hiccups are that bad, you’ll be visiting a doctor and not reading posts on TS for advice.

The most sensible at-home cures, as far as I can find, seem to centre around a few things. One is holding your breath (and all variations on that), as this increases the carbon dioxide in your bloodstream which stops hiccups. The frightening one I mentioned earlier also seems like it might have some truth to it as your breathing pattern changes when you are suddenly scared. If you drink something (normally, no headstands involved. Unless you want to, in which case all power to you) or hold your tongue out then this stimulates the vagus nerve that runs from the brain to the stomach, hiccups can also be alleviated. Even the various off-the-wall cures probably work quite effectively not because there is some magic formula for how many times you spin around whilst reciting the national anthem, but because they distract the person with the hiccups which helps the diaphragm relax.

So, all-in-all, if you have hiccups try some of the things I’ve mentioned, and if they don’t go away maybe it is best to be seeing a doctor.

*Otherwise known as Singultus (the medical term), or hiccoughs, which I like for the mere fact that is pronounced exactly the same as hiccups, so it can be added to the list of words ending in ~ough that don’t rhyme. For example, through, though, plough,cough etc. English is crazy!

More Information: EMedicineHealth
Featured Image Credit: Google Images

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Lauren is a Maths and Physics student from somewhere in the southern hemisphere. She has an affinity for reality, and you can find her on twitter @lolrj, or Google+.


  1. November 28, 2011 at 9:20 pm —

    Also, did you know, the longest hiccups ever was 68 years? I read it in Guiness World Records once.

  2. November 29, 2011 at 12:04 pm —

    LOL “repeat until hiccups subside”…grr!

    Getting scared has always been the best way to get rid of them, in my life.

    Good post Lauren.

    • November 30, 2011 at 5:11 am —

      OOOPS! I just saw your comment and realised I forgot to give you credit for the idea. Thanks, it was a cool topic and I’ve edited the post now.

      Thanks! 🙂

  3. December 4, 2011 at 11:20 am —

    My mom always made me take a spoonful of sugar and hold it in my mouth for 30 seconds. The sugar, not the spoon. I don’t think it ever worked, but I like sugar so I didn’t complain 🙂

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