What’s your favourite remedy for hiccups? There’s plenty to choose from.
Hold your breath and swallow three times. Pull on your tongue. Breathe into a paper bag but stop before you get dizzy. Drink a glass of water from the far side of the glass.
Or (always fun) give the victim a fright.
All good stuff, except they don’t reliably work.
Researchers from The University of Texas (UT) – perhaps after a night of heavy drinking, a top cause of hiccups – decided to bring some science to the table and come up with a cure.
What causes hiccups
Hiccups are involuntary contractions of your diaphragm – the muscle that separates your chest from your abdomen. It supports breathing.
When the diaphragm contracts, your vocal cords tighten and close. This produces the vexing ‘hic’.
“Hiccups are occasionally annoying for some people, but for others they significantly impact quality of life,” said Dr Ali Seifi, associate professor of neurosurgery in UT Health San Antonio’s School of Medicine.
“This includes many patients with brain and stroke injury, and cancer patients. We had a couple of cancer patients in this study. Some chemotherapies cause hiccups.”
A simple tool
Scientists routinely give their inventions ridiculous name. What the Texans came up with was FISST – not a punch to the belly, but a “forced inspiratory suction and swallow tool”.
FISST is a rigid drinking tube with an inlet valve that requires forceful suction to draw water from a cup into the mouth. The suction and swallow simultaneously stimulate two nerves, the phrenic and vagus nerves, to relieve hiccups.
Forceful suction induces the diaphragm to contract. The suction and swallow also prompt the epiglottis, the flap that covers the windpipe during swallowing, to close. This ends the hiccup spasms.
Does it work?
The research project began with 600 individuals who, because they stated they had hiccups, were given the tool to try out. More than half of these participants were never heard from again.
The remaining 290 participants responded to a survey about their experience with FISST, compared to other remedies they have used. Of these, 249 fully answered the survey and were included in the research analysis.
FISST stopped hiccups in nearly 92 per cent of those cases .
And 90.8 per cent said they found the tool easy to use.
The device is about the hit supermarket shelves in the US – ahead of a double-blind clinical trial in Europe and America.
Dr Seifi said the challenge is developing something for the control group “that resembles FISST but doesn’t work”.