How To Stop The Hiccups — For Real

By Paul Thomas Zenki

I know, I know, you’ve heard them all before. All those home remedies for hiccups.

Hold your breath. Drink an entire glass of water. Eat a spoonful of sugar. Breathe into a paper bag. Get someone to scare you.

None of that really works. Well, maybe once in a while, but not consistently.

There is one way, however, that will work and it will work every single time. As long as you’re sober. If you’ve been drinking or anything like that, sorry, I can’t help you.

First, to understand how and why this trick works, you have to know what the hiccups are.

As you may have learned in your school days, your breath is controlled by two complementary nervous systems, the autonomic and the somatic. The autonomic system allows us to breathe without thinking about it, which is damn convenient. The somatic system allows us to control how rapidly or deeply we are breathing when we want to, which is also convenient.

A hiccup is a spasm of the diaphragm. It may happen once, or it may settle into a pattern. It’s the pattern of spasms that’s annoying, and it’s all in that autonomic system, the one that keeps us inhaling and exhaling without having to do it consciously.

The secret to stopping the pattern is to take total control of the movement of your diaphragm with the somatic, or conscious, nervous system. If you can take just one entirely conscious breath, you will break the pattern, and the hiccups will stop. It’s as simple as that.

But simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy. Even when you’re trying to control your breath, you aren’t controlling it entirely. You’re simply tweaking the performance of your autonomic system by throwing in a little somatic on the side.

To end the hiccups, you have to take one entirely conscious breath. That’s why you must be totally sober. And it’s why you need to remove all distractions before you do this. You can’t be watching TV or doing anything with your hands. In fact, I’ve found I can’t even do it when other people are in the room with me — there’s some little part of my brain that’s paying attention to them, and that’s enough distraction to foul up the mojo.

There are different ways to do this trick, but the easiest one I’ve found is to exhale as deeply as possible, then inhale as slowly as possible. And I do mean as slowly as possible. Focus on nothing but your breathing. Constantly ask if you could breathe more slowly. (The answer is usually yes.) As carbon dioxide builds up in your lungs, you will need to increase your rate of inhalation, but don’t lose control. Continue to keep your breath as slow as you can, even as you increase the speed, even if you need to speed up rapidly at the end.

Inhale until your lungs are completely full. You’ll have your chest puffed out like a prairie grouse, but don’t let that distract you.

Now, do the same in reverse. Exhale as slowly as you possibly can. You’ll feel the C02 burn again, and again you’ll need to speed up, but that’s OK. Just make sure you stay in control of how fast you’re going.

Man upside down on sofa

It may take a few tries before you succeed. After all, you’ve probably never taken a single entirely conscious breath in your life. But once you do it, your hiccups will be gone. And, as long as you can find a quiet space, you’ll be able to stop them any time they hit. For the rest of your life.

And you’ll never have to try anything like this again….

Yeah, you’re welcome.



Images: Hiccup Cure by Radrice; Hiccups 2 by Alan Light

Paul Thomas Zenki is an essayist, ghostwriter, copywriter, marketer, songwriter, and consultant living in Athens, GA.