Obscure hiccup home-remedies are not in short supply. Some people swear by holding their breath while others encourage chugging water. Lots of folks will try to scare hiccups away with a shock or surprise. Or, perhaps you've grabbed a spoonful of sugar or peanut butter to put these involuntary spasms to a stop.
But Ali Seifi, a neurosurgeon at University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, has spent years developing a science-backed solution: the HiccAway, a straw-like device that distracts parts of the nervous system involved in hiccups.
A preliminary study published on June 18 in the journal JAMA Network Open shows that the HiccAway, also called the “forced inspiratory suction and swallow tool,” relieved 92 percent of users' hiccups. Next, Seifi plans to conduct a more rigorous study with hiccup experts in Japan and Switzerland.
Seifi recognized the need for a reliable hiccup cure while working in an intensive care unit.
"Many patients with brain injury, stroke, and cancer chemotherapy patients get hiccups on my floor," says Seifi to Nicoletta Lanese at Live Science in an email. Home remedies like drinking water from the far side of a cup were frustrating for patients recovering from surgery.
After Seifi caught the hiccups while giving a presentation to medical students, he "really decided that I have to find a definite, but simple solution,” he tells Live Science.
Hiccups occur when the diaphragm suddenly contracts, making the body rapidly inhale. Then, the closure of the epiglottis—the flap of tissue that covers the windpipe when swallowing—makes the “hic” sound of a hiccup.
The HiccAway is shaped like a wide, bent straw, with a mouthpiece on one end and a pressure valve on the other. When a person uses the HiccAway to drink water, they have to suck about four times harder than if they were using a regular straw, Hilary Brueck reports for Insider. All of that effort distracts the nerves that are responsible for the diaphragm and epiglottis, called the phrenic and vagus nerves.
The device is “fooling the brain,” Seifi tells Insider. “The diaphragm keeps being occupied by our intention of suctioning the water. Then, the brain forgets to keep spasming that diaphragm."
Seifi developed the HiccAway design between 2016 and 2020 and funded its production through KickStarter, where the device was priced at $14. A total of 290 people who received the device volunteered to participate in the JAMA study.
Four months after receiving the HiccAway, volunteers rated their experience on a five-point scale, where "one" indicated a strong preference for home remedies, and a "five" meant a strong preference for the HiccAway. The device stopped people’s hiccups in 92 percent of cases, and about 90 percent of respondents rated the HiccAway as better at alleviating hiccups than home remedies.
“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,” says Newcastle University neurologist Rhys Thomas, who wasn’t involved in the study, to Nicola Davis at the Guardian. But Thomas adds, “I think this is a solution to a problem that nobody has been asking for.”
The JAMA Network Open study lacked a control group and relied on volunteers’ subjective responses, and the authors note that “future studies will need to assess the efficacy of FISST in randomized clinical trials.”
Seifi tells Live Science the research team has begun trials in the United States, Japan and Switzerland that will give one group of volunteers a sham device, and the other group the real HiccAway, in order to measure its effectiveness against a control.