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Hiccups are one of life’s little annoyances and, more often than not, they just happen to come at the most embarrassing times. If you get them, you want them to go away as quickly as possible. Old wives tales say that scaring someone, drinking a glass of water upside down, or even eating a tablespoon of raw sugar can do the trick. Medical science has other ideas.

What are hiccups?

In order to look at what will make hiccups go away, it can be helpful to understand just what they are in the first place. Hiccups start with a changed motion in your diaphragm. Normally the muscle, located between your lungs and your stomach, pulls down when you inhale and relaxes as you let your breath back out again. Sometimes your diaphragm will become irritated and spasm, forcing air back into your throat by your voicebox and making a distinctive sound.

What brings on a series of hiccups? Lots of times the cause of a hiccup session is pretty simple. It can happen because someone has eaten too quickly, is nervous, is experiencing stress, or even because they swallowed some air while sucking on hard candy. In many cases, it might be hard to determine exactly what happened, but the effect is pretty clear.

Three scientific suggestions to cure hiccups

If you’re in the middle of a hiccup attack, doctors have some suggestions for things that could help:

1. Paper bag breathing: Doctors suggest that when you have hiccups, breathing into a paper bag in a slow relaxed way can do the trick. This action helps you to de-stress and allows for a greater build-up of carbon dioxide in your lungs that can allow the irritation in your diaphragm to settle.

2. A deep breathing exercise: Many doctors also recommend a deep breathing exercise which can stretch your diaphragm. To accomplish it, take a deep breath and hold it for 10 seconds. Without exhaling, take a second deep breath on top of the first. Hold this for another 10 seconds. Repeat the process a third time, holding your breath for as long as you can. Then exhale.

3. Drinking a glass of water very quickly: Some people have also found that if you drink a glass of water very quickly, it changes your breathing in a way that helps to relax your diaphragm.

Hiccups in babies

Newborns and infants frequently get hiccups too, much to the surprise of their parents. Babies can get these if they swallow too much air, take in too much air, or eat too quickly during mealtimes. Sometimes a baby hiccup is adorable and sometimes it is worrisome. If it is startling or upsetting for the child, there are things you can do to help. Parents can try to keep a child’s bottle at a 45-degree angle, to burp them more frequently, or to try to encourage them to eat more slowly. They can also try out a change of positions when feeding or experiment with a different type of bottle nipple that makes airflow more consistent.

Extreme hiccups: When to call for medical attention

Unfortunately, some individuals experience a case of the hiccups that impacts their lives and just doesn’t seem to go away no matter what anyone does. Sometimes this is caused by damage to the nerves connected to your diaphragm but it can also be caused by things like encephalitis, meningitis, diabetes, or certain uses of steroids. If you have a case that lasts for more than two days or if it affects how you eat, breathe, or sleep, it is a good idea to call a doctor and get things checked out.