Detailed guides to painful problems, treatments & more

The hiccup hack: suckin’ and swallowin’

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

Bizarrely, this is a post about a hiccup cure … which actually works because it sucks. (That will be funnier once I’ve had a chance to explain.) It’s quite an unusual post, in three ways:

  1. It’s a completely positive report about a treatment that actually works, with no significant caveats (except perhaps that it’s not a pain treatment).
  2. This is legitimately useful information. This post can actually improve the lives of most people who read it. Slightly.
  3. I endorse a product. I can’t even remember the last time I did that! It has been years at least. And, no, I’m not profiting from it. The only way I make any money from this post is if you think, “Such great content! I should buy a premium subscription! for $5/month (or $50/year) to unlock more posts and lots of members-only content around” Otherwise I get bupkis.

Hiccups are not generally painful, but they are cousin to painful things. They are the king of weird, annoying spasms — one of the most familiar of dozens of kinds of unwanted muscle contractions, most of which we don’t understand and/or can’t treat (and some of which are painful).

There are many quaint home remedies and folk cures for hiccups. But probably none of those work anywhere near as well as a FISST: a forced inspiratory suction and swallow tool.

The “Hiccaway” straw. It doesn’t suck. Not easily, anyway.

Introducing HiccAway

HiccAway is a resistance straw, which means that it is a sucky straw for sucking. It doesn’t work at all well as a normal straw because it’s much too hard to pull water through it — by design. That’s the “forced inspiratory suction” part of the tool.

The “and swallow” part is because we can get some water through it. And we swallow that as it trickles through.

So using the straw combines a strong sucking action with swallowing, which is unusual. (Not exactly unheard of, but … okay, I think I’ve said enough.)

The sucking + swallowing combo “short circuits” the hiccups. And this is actually an evidence-based cure, a weird but cromulent little neurological hack. The HiccAway:

stopped hiccups in nearly 92% cases and was rated favorably compared with home remedies across all demographic characteristics, hiccup frequencies, and hiccup durations.

That was the result of one kinda lame little clinical trial (see Alvarez).

Why isn’t this “too good to be true”?

Normally I would dismiss a study like that. Why not this time?

  • The mechanism is plausible. Normally when I scoff at a weak trial, it’s because it’s barely positive evidence for something that was kind of a reach in the first place.
  • This is not a “barely” positive trial: it’s strongly positive, a full-power thumbs up, a hands-down winner. And why isn’t that too good to be true? Well…
  • The stakes are low. It’s not all that extraordinary claim, so it doesn’t need extraordinary evidence. The bar is lower. Just like a small study can easily show that soap is slippery, a small study can show that there is a way to stop hiccups.
  • Straightforward outcomes are easier to test for, and hiccups are straightforward: you have them, or you don’t. No one's being temporarily fooled into thinking that they don’t have the hiccups. (Which happens all the time with trials of pain treatments.)

It worked for me

This is a bit embarrassing, because I am so professionally allergic to using anecdotes. But … the results of the study are completely consistent with my own personal experience with the device.

For whatever it is worth, I have tried the HiccAway this year (2022), and it has worked immediately and perfectly each of the half dozen or so times I’ve used it. I feel a bit uneasy about this endorsement, but it just seems so definitive: I simply have not been bothered by hiccups since it came into my life.

Before: Hiccups were actually a frustrating problem from me, significant because they often interfered with sleep. I tend to get hiccups at night.

After: No more problem. I simply don’t seem to have to worry about hiccups any more.

Over the years, I have tried dozens of treatment gadgets and nostrums for pain, and not one of them has ever worked even half as well for me as this hiccup cure. (Indeed, I’m hard pressed to think of one that has worked at all.)

Did I really just write a post about a hiccup cure?

Why? Other than the obvious utility of a hiccup cure that isn’t bullshit…

What most interests me about this is that FISST’ing actually stops one kind of spasm. That gives me a little hope that there might be similar mechanisms for other kinds of spasms and cramps, especially the disabling and painful ones. I don’t know of any other similar example, unfortunately. But this example demonstrates nicely that spasms aren’t entirely invincible … and that’s just nice to know.