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Does Holding Your Breath Really Stop Hiccups? (And Other Myths)

hiccuping woman drinking water

When you get the hiccups, and they feel like they’re never going to stop, you’d do just about anything to get them to quit. From holding your breath to having someone scare you, what really stops your hiccups?

What Are Hiccups?

Many things can cause hiccups. The most common include the carbonation from soda, ingesting too much alcohol, overeating (and eating too fast), and swallowing air (which is why you sometimes hiccup at the same time you burp).

How do these various things make you hiccup? They trigger an involuntary contraction in your diaphragm, which is the muscle separating your chest and abdominal region.

The “hic” sound, which is where hiccups get their name, comes from the sudden closure of your vocal cords due to the contraction happening in the diaphragm.

How to Stop Hiccups

If you often have hiccups, you may want to talk to your doctor. You may have an underlying ailment that needs treatment before any trick will work to get rid of your hiccups. If you’re just having hiccups when you drink alcohol or soda or scarf down dinner too fast, you’ve probably already tried some of these tricks to stop the pesky contractions.

Holding Your Breath

This is my go-to whenever I have the hiccups. I hold my breath for as long as I can, three times in a row. It works for me. Then again, I rarely get the hiccups anymore. When I do, I hiccup once, and I’m done.

It could be that holding your breath increases the amount of CO2 in your system, which may affect the diaphragm and stop your hiccups. Actually, it’s probably your brain focusing on the need to breathe instead of suffocating that stops the hiccups with this treatment. While holding your breath may work for one person, it doesn’t always work for everyone. It’s also not a cure for hiccups. You’ll probably get them again the next time you drink a carbonated soda.

Being Scared

Can you really scare the hiccups out of someone? Probably not. There is no scientific proof that says you can scare someone and make their hiccups stop. If it works, it’s more likely a fluke.

What seems the more likely case, when a scare cures hiccups, is that your brain is distracted from focusing on the diaphragm, and instead is busy determining whether you should run or stay and fight your frightener.

Drink a Glass of Water Upside-Down

People look to numerous water techniques when it comes to stopping a case of the hiccups. Some people say to drink a glass of water upside-down (which is tricky, and there’s an explanation on how to do this coming up). Others say you should drink water while plugging your ears. (It helps to drink through a straw though, so your hands are free for ear-plugging.)

So, to drink your water upside-down, your goal is to drink from the opposite side of the glass. Lean your head down, place the lip of the side of the glass you usually don’t drink out of at the top of your mouth, and drink. Although it sounds more like a choking hazard than a cure for hiccups, some people swear it works. According to one believer, a doctor said this trick forces the abdomen to contract muscles, stopping the hiccups. But, like all hiccup treatments, there’s no actual scientific proof this works, at least not for everyone.

What’s It Like Living with Constant Hiccups?

For most people, hiccups start and stop on their own. Your hiccups may end before you even get that glass of water from the sink to try drinking it upside-down. Even if your doctor pinpoints an underlying cause for your hiccups, treatment may not work.

Charles Osborne knew what it was like to live with the hiccups intruding on his life every single day. He had them for 68 years. He hiccuped every single day for that period and numerous times a minute. According to Today I Found Out, Charles’ hiccups began after a weird accident that caused pin-prick sized blood vessel to pop in his brain, damaging the part of the brain that deals with how we respond to hiccups. He hiccuped anywhere from 40 to 20 times a minute during that large portion of his life, and he died about a year after his hiccups stopped.

Tired of Your Hiccups?

If you pay attention to what triggers your hiccups, you can avoid doing those things that can cause them. Eat slower, don’t drink carbonated beverages, cut back on alcoholic beverages, and quit chewing gum. If your hiccups don’t seem to be related to any of these things, and they happen frequently and don’t stop after a few hours, call your doctor and make an appointment to find out what underlying causes there are for your case.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow has been a professional writer for almost two decades. Yvonne has worked for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and much more as a writer and editor. She's also a published poet and a short story writer. Read Full Bio »