Guru Kate: What are hiccups? Are there any scientifically proven cures?
Hiccups are nature’s reminder that no matter how intricate the human body is, it still has a switch that no one knows what it goes to. They’re involuntary spasms of the diaphragm, which is a big muscle sandwiched between the stomach and lungs.
The diaphragm helps regulate breathing patterns while forcing air in and out of your lungs, but it can be tripped into a spasm fit by anything from stuffing your stomach to sobbing fits. These spasms are what cause hiccups. Hiccups make noises because there is a simultaneous contraction of the vocal cords with each spasm. Basically, the vocal cords synchronize with your diaphragm as air is forced out of your lungs, and you make a noise. Some are quiet chirps, while others are bellowing screeches.
For the most part, the diaphragm behaves itself. But, as most of us know, it can mess up every now and then. For me, it only happens right before I go to a public place, like the grocery store or the movies, so I’ve listened to my fair share of old wives’ tales about how to get rid of them. I’m tired of messing around with solutions that may or may not work.
Here’s what the peer-reviewed articles online tell us: There are hundreds of clinically defined causes of hiccups. While there is a neurological connection to the diaphragm spasm reflex, the 2,000-year-old “scare tactic” is definitely not a foolproof means of ridding someone of hiccups.
What does work, however, is directly touching the back of the throat — specifically the uvula, which is the dangling bit of pink flesh located at the very back of the mouth. According to Dr. Janet Travell, lifting the uvula with a spoon should halt the hiccups. However, this could result in choking, so leave this method to medical professionals. There are other methods involving cotton swabs, catheters and the pharynx, but those methods are generally unsafe for the average person to perform.
The safest recommended (and tastiest) cure is swallowing half a teaspoon of granulated sugar. In small experiment groups, this cured bouts of hiccups immediately in every participant.
Full list of clinically recommended hiccup cures:
Lifting uvula with spoon
Gargling with water
Slowly drinking ice water
Swallowing granulated sugar, dry
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