From holding your breath to having a friend shout “boo!”, there are no shortage of alleged cures for hiccups. Now scientists say they have found a better solution: a drinking straw device.
When you get hiccups – or singultus as it is known in medicine – the diaphragm and intercostal muscles suddenly contract. The subsequent abrupt intake of air causes the opening between the vocal folds – known as the glottis – to shut, resulting in a “hic” sound – often to the embarrassment of the afflicted and the amusement of others.
But while home remedies abound, a team of scientists say they have come up with a new answer.
Dubbed “the forced inspiratory suction and swallow tool” (FISST), and patented as HiccAway, the $14 (£10) plastic device is a rigid L-shaped straw that has a mouthpiece at one end and an adjustable cap with a pressure valve, in the form of a small hole, at the other. Hiccuping people place the device into a glass of water and use it to sip.
The idea is that the enhanced suction required to draw water up through the device requires the phrenic nerve to trigger a contraction of the diaphragm, while the subsequent swallow involves activation of the vagus nerve, among others. As these two nerves are responsible for the hiccups in the first place, the researchers say keeping them busy stops them from causing the unwanted phenomenon.
“It works instantly and the effect stays for several hours,” Dr Ali Seifi, associate professor at the University of Texas Health at San Antonio, and a co-author of the study, said.
To evaluate the device the team analysed responses from 249 volunteers – more than two-thirds of whom said they had hiccups at least once a month.
Published in the journal Jama Network Open, the results reveal that the device stopped hiccups in almost 92% of cases. Just over 90% of participants said they found it more convenient than other home remedies, while 183 of 203 participants said it gave better results. The authors say the results held across all demographics, hiccup frequencies and hiccup durations.
However the study has limitations, including that it did not include a control group and was based on self-reported results.
Dr Rhys Thomas, a consultant neurologist and epilepsy neuroscientist at Newcastle University, who was not involved in the study, said the device was likely to work and was Covid-safe as it did not require input from others.
But he added: “I think this is a solution to a problem that nobody has been asking for,” noting there were other effective and low-cost options, including his own favourite approach of plugging both ears tightly, while drinking a glass of water through a normal straw.
“Anything that allows you to inflate your chest and swallow will work – the key down the back, the ‘boo!’ and the fingers in the ears will do that to a certain degree – and then this [device], if it allows you to have a long, slow swallow, will be a pretty potent way of doing that,” said Thomas, adding another approach was to drink from a glass backwards.
“If you are prepared for the fact you’ll end up wearing some of it, that is my second favourite option,” he said.