Overcoming an annoyance. Hiccups are actually interrupted inhalations, caused by the nerves responsible for the smooth rhythm of breathing failing to synchronize. As you inhale, your diaphragm, which ought to be relaxing as your lungs fill with air, has a spasm, and the throat, which should be staying open to let air through, shuts down.
Many kinds of irritation can cause hiccups. Drinking too much alcohol, gulping food down fast, draining an ice-cold drink too quickly, or even laughing heartily on a full stomach are all likely triggers. Nervousness, tiredness, or indigestion can be behind an attack; so can an ordinary intestinal upset or the general physical disruption that follows surgery.
To get nerves synchronized again, the trick seems to be to soothe them. One way is to give the diaphragm a forced rest: hold your breath as long as you can, then exhale very gradually. Or try deep, slow breathing. Nonstop, slow sipping of a glass of warm water may have the same effect. A method that children will love involves taking a teaspoonful of granulated sugar.
Some people advocate putting a brown paper bag over one’s nose and mouth and breathing in and out repeatedly. The carbon dioxide buildup in the bag will compel the breathing mechanism to work properly.
If none of these tricks works and the hiccups last longer than 3 or 4 hours or if you have recurring attacks, consult your doctor. There are a variety of medications that can stop hiccups.