I’ve been having bad cases of hiccoughs

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One of the goofiest side effects of some of the cancer medications I’m taking is that I get some really loud, painful hiccups. By loud, I mean LOUD. When I hiccup, I scare the birds, rabbits, and squirrels in the yard. It’s ridiculous, and unfortunately, none of my doctors seems to be able to explain why it happens.

Oh, I’ve had hiccups often in my life, but they were just run-of-the-mill, ordinary hiccups. They were nothing like this. And I’ve found that almost everyone has a “cure” for those ordinary hiccups: like holding your breath, drinking water, drinking through a handkerchief, and Marilyn’s favorite – “I’ll give you a dollar if you hiccup again.”

Before I was diagnosed, when I’d take a drink of soda, I’d hiccup a couple of times, especially if I’d take a drink with food in my mouth. Usually, it’s two short, rather quiet little “hic”s, and then it’s gone. I rarely got long-lasting hiccups, but when I did, Marilyn almost always said, “I’ll give you a dollar if you do that again!” Why that works, I’ll never know.

But these hiccups are different. They seem to come from the bottom of my stomach and they hurt like crazy. Sometimes it’s just a few times, sometimes they may go on for 10 minutes or so, enough to bring tears to my eyes.

Before we get any further, let’s define terms, OK? The online Merriam-Webster says “A hiccup or hiccough (I much prefer the hiccough spelling, by the way, because it’s so unusual – and so accurate to the thing itself, a cough that sounds like hic) is an involuntary spasmodic contraction of the diaphragm followed by a sharp intake of air, which is abruptly stopped by a sudden, involuntary closing of the glottis – the opening between the vocal cords; the consequent blocking of air produces a repeated characteristic sharp sound, or hic.”

But why do we get them? What causes us to get that “involuntary spasmodic contraction of the diaphragm”? (And isn’t diaphragm a cool word, too?) I don’t know why they happen, and I couldn’t find any definitive answers on the internet. There are several common widely recognized causes of hiccups, but there’s no proof that they are real. These include tickling, swallowing air, eating (especially spicy food) or drinking (especially carbonated or alcoholic drinks), talking or laughing, and nervousness or anxiety.

Usually hiccups go away by themselves in a short time and don’t require any treatment. Often, they respond to the simple non-drug methods I’ve mentioned here. But sometimes hiccups last long enough to significantly interfere with sleep, eating or normal activities. If that happens it’s probably wise to consider seeing a doctor.

There is an actual medical term for hiccups. Does anyone know what it is? It’s singultus. I don’t know why. I couldn’t find a derivation.

What are some of the other “cures” that are out there? I’ve heard of quite a few. Besides the ones I’ve already mentioned, there’s the old favorite spoonful of sugar. Or how about breathing into a paper bag and rebreathing the air? What about laughing, swallowing air or hyperventilating? Have you ever tried those?

When I was teaching, I often carried a yardstick around and I’d slap a desktop for emphasis. That was an excellent cure for hiccups, too. If a student were experiencing hiccups, a sharp slap of the stick on his desk would scare them away, sometimes.

I’ve also heard that you can pinch the “pressure point” on the sort of webbing between your thumb and first finger. (If you’re right-handed, do the squeezing with your left hand and vice versa.)

A book I read once suggested standing on your head, counting to 20 with your fingers in your ears, rubbing your earlobe until the hiccups are gone, or holding your tongue with your thumb and index finger and gently pulling it forward. It might be fun to see someone try all of those at once!

Lots of cures I’ve heard about involve water. You might want to try some of these. Pinch your nose shut while you drink water. Gargle (this can also be done with mouthwash – sort of killing two birds with one stone). Take a big sip of water, bend over and swallow it. Immerse your face in ice water. A nurse recently recommended putting pressure on my eyeballs – and surprisingly, it works for me. How about that?

But my all-time favorite cure: Eat a tablespoon of peanut butter! Who cares if it really works? How could it be bad?

Roger VanHaren can be contacted at rjmavh@gmail.com.