Hiccup is unquestionably annoying and can really disrupt your day. Chances are you probably have your own home remedy for making them stop. If they work, that’s great, but you may be wondering why one method is more effective than another. As it turns out, the BBC conducted an investigation to find out what needs to happen in order for your hiccups to stop.
Laughing, drinking a lot of alcohol, eating something fast, or just a weird, spontaneous reaction can cause a spasm in your diaphragm which makes air rush to your lungs, causes your vocal cords to suddenly close and makes the “hic” sound of a hiccup. They’re obnoxious, annoying, and seem to always happen at the most inopportune times.
There’s no true cure for hiccups, but home remedies that actually work fall into two categories: those that raise the levels of carbon dioxide in your blood and those that stimulate the vagus nerve.
If you’ve ever had luck with hiccup-stopping techniques like holding your breath or breathing into a paper bag, it’s likely because these methods raise the levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the blood, inhibiting spasms of the diaphragm Per the BBC:
They can work sometimes, but researchers are unsure why. Some think it’s a way of distracting the body so that it worries about the build up of CO2 instead; others have proposed that hiccups may be caused by low levels of CO2 in the first place, and therefore high levels would inhibit the hiccups.
Many of the other home remedies people use to get rid of hiccups—like those involving drinking water or having someone scare you—fall into this category. These work because they stimulate the vagus nerve, which runs from your brain to your stomach and helps with coordinating your breathing and swallowing. Here’s what the BBC found in their investigation:
“This nerve is implicated in the hiccupping process, but you can disrupt the chain of events by stimulating the nerve so that it sends signals to the brain telling it to attend to this new sensation instead. This is where remedies such as gulping water, biting a lemon or eating crushed ice come in.
“Similarly, pulling the tip of your tongue, putting your fingers in your ears or gently pressing on your eyeballs can all stimulate the vagus nerve. Think of it as distracting the body from your hiccups by making something else dramatic happen to it. The same logic applies to giving someone a fright.”
Basically, scientists aren’t totally sure why hiccup cures work, but the lesson is that if something works for you, continue doing it.