NEWS

A Powerful Straw-Like Device Could Cure Your Hiccups

Two blue HiccAway devices next to a box for HiccAway that says "guaranteed to stop hiccups" on a white background.

HiccAway

Key Takeaways

  • HiccAway is a new device that is designed to stop hiccups. The device works like a straw to use forced suction and swallowing to stop diaphragm contractions, which relieves hiccuping.
  • HiccAway is easy to use and durable and has been shown to be 92% effective at stopping hiccups.
  • The researchers hope to make the device widely available to the general public at a low cost, which could help people who have hiccups caused by certain medication conditions or treatments get relief.

A new device developed at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UT Health San Antonio) wants to be the hiccup cure you've been looking for. Instead of relying on anecdotal tips, tricks, and hiccup hacks, the straw-like device is a proven way to halt the spasms.

The research team, which included a medical student, created their hiccup cure that relies on a technique called forceful suction that signals the diaphragm to contract and ultimately stops the spasms. The team called the process “forced inspiratory suction and swallow tool (FISST)” and named the device they created using it HiccAway.  

To test the device, the researchers gave HiccAway to 249 adults who said that they got hiccups often. The participants self-reported their experience using HiccAway to the researchers. The initial results, which were published in JAMA Network Open, showed that the device is about 90% effective at curing hiccups and that the participants found it easy to use.

What Are Hiccups?

Hiccups are involuntary, repetitive contractions of the diaphragm that cause rhythmic spasms, which, in turn, increases air intake. However, that air intake is interrupted by the closing of the epiglottis which is what produces the “hic” sound that is commonly associated with hiccups.

Why Do We Hiccup?

Researchers have struggled to find the exact cause and function of hiccups, but many theories have been suggested—many of which start before birth. For example, some have suggested that hiccups prevent a fetus from swallowing amniotic fluid in utero or that hiccuping helps a fetus prepare to breathe on its own after birth.

Ali Seifi, MD, an author of the study and an associate professor of neurosurgery in UT Health San Antonio’s Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine, tells Verywell that hiccup research has been limited and inconclusive.

“Most of the research (on hiccups) had difficulty finding the exact cause of hiccups and even until now, the exact pathophysiology and mechanism of hiccups is mostly a theory and not very clear,” says Seifi. “There have been other tries in the past with not much success and it seems that this (FISST research) is most likely one of the first positive studies.”

Chronic Hiccups

Persistent hiccups are ongoing spasms that last longer than two days. A case of chronic hiccups can last months. The "Guinness Book of World Records" reports that a man named Charles Osborne had hiccups for 68 years (he still holds the record).

Osborne believed that his hiccups started after a fall damaged a small blood vessel in his brain. He never found a home remedy or trick that could effectively stop them, though they spontaneously stopped about a year before he died.

While Osborne's record is an outlier, many medical conditions and medications have been shown to increase the risk of developing ongoing hiccups, which can be distressing and disruptive.

What Causes Hiccups?

Even if it's not clear why we hiccup, there are a lot of ways to set them off. Everything from health conditions to medications and even changes in the environment can trigger hiccups. A few common hiccup culprits include:

  • Eating a large meal
  • Eating too fast
  • Drinking carbonated beverages or alcohol
  • Stress, feeling excited or nervous
  • Chewing gum or sucking on hard candy
  • Irritation of the epiglottis (acid reflux)
  • Drastic changes in temperature 
  • Irritation of the vagus or phrenic nerves 

Health Conditions

Medical conditions involving almost every system of the body have been associated with chronic hiccups as a secondary side effect. Some of the most common conditions linked to hiccuping include:

  • Acid reflux
  • Cancers
  • History of coronary artery blockage or stroke
  • Asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis
  • Peptic ulcers
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Diabetes
  • Sinus or ear infection 
  • Brain injury
  • Kidney damage

Early research has linked persistent hiccups as an initial symptom of some people who later tested positive for COVID-19.

Medications

Certain medications have also been associated with an increased risk of developing persistent hiccups including:

  • Steroids 
  • Opioids (oxycodone, morphine, codeine)
  • Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Ativan)
  • Antibiotics
  • Chemotherapy medication

How Does HiccAway Work?

According to Seifi, the HiccAway device took two years of updating and improving before a working prototype was developed. The small plastic tool is shaped like a smoker's pipe and a user sucks on it as they would a regular straw, but with a lot more oomph.

The HiccAway device is easy to use and its durable design is meant to last forever.

The device requires forceful suction to pull water into it. It's that suction and the subsequent swallowing that trigger the phrenic and vagus nerves, which stimulate the diaphragm to contract.

The process also closes the epiglottis (the flap in the back of the throat that keeps food from entering the lungs). Altogether, the sequence quickly stops the spasms that cause hiccups.

A HiccAway in Every Home (and Hospital)

“My suggestion is that each family can [keep] one HiccAway at home in the medicine cabinet," says Seifi. "It is durable and you only need one for the family. The aim is to make it as simple as possible to be available to the public at a low cost."

For many people, hiccups are only a minor and occasional inconvenience. However, some people develop hiccups more frequently and for a longer time—in which case the hiccuping can interfere with their quality of life. A device like the HiccAway that's durable, easy to use, and inexpensive could be a simple solution to a person's persistent hiccuping problem.

Ali Seifi, MD

My suggestion is that each family can [keep] one HiccAway at home in the medicine cabinet.

— Ali Seifi, MD

The device could also provide instant relief to hiccuping hospital patients. Seifi, who worked as an anesthesiologist for 20 years, explained that sometimes people get hiccups after surgery. "I used to see hiccups daily in the recovery room. At the time we used to medicate them with Thorazine, a sedative which makes the patients even more sleepy.”

While HiccAway holds promise for hiccuping help, more specific randomized clinical trials of HiccAway are still needed. It's also too soon to gauge the public's response.

“Since this is the first time that a device with a medical background is on the market, I think the market will talk to us, we will need to wait and watch,” says Seifi.

HiccAway has been patented and is currently being marketed by Aim Dynamics of Longmont, Colorado.

Was this page helpful?
8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Alvarez J, Anderson JM, Snyder PL. Evaluation of the forced inspiratory suction and swallow tool to stop hiccups. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(6):e2113933. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.13933

  2. Kohse EK, Hollmann MW, Bardenheuer HJ, Kessler J. Chronic hiccups: an underestimated problem. Anesth Analg. 2017 Oct;125(4):1169-1183. doi:10.1213/ANE.0000000000002289

  3. The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. When are hiccups serious? Updated February 7, 2020.

  4. Steger M, Schneemann M, Fox M. Systemic review: the pathogenesis and pharmacological treatment of hiccups. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2015;42(9):1037-1050. doi:10.1111/apt.13374

  5. Nguyen V, Deeb K, Rathakrishnan R. Hiccups: You got to be kidney me! SAGE Open Med Case Rep. 2020;8:2050313X2096264. doi:10.1177/2050313X20962641

  6. Prince G, Sergel M. Persistent hiccups as an atypical presenting complaint of COVID-19Am J Emerg Med. 2020;38(7):1546.e5-1546.e6. doi:10.1016/j.ajem.2020.04.045

  7. UT Health Newsroom. Team describes science-based hiccups intervention. Published June 18, 2020.

  8. UT Health Newsroom. HiccAway! UT Health San Antonio physician develops device to relieve hiccups. Published September 11, 2020.