Ask A Scientist
Why does water stop hiccups?
Asked by: Maria Mirabito
School: Sidney High School
Teacher: Mr. Pysnik
Career Interest: N/A
Answer from Gail Mathieson-Devereaux, MS,
Clinical Instructor, International Graduate Studen
Dermatology, Geriatrics, International Student Recruitment & Retention
Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from University of New Mexico; Masters Degree and Family Nurse Practitioner Certification from Binghamton University; Post Masters Nurse Educator Certification from Upstate Medical College.
Husband, Chip, is a biologist at Binghamton University, 7th Grade son at West Middle School and a barn full of well loved animals
Tennis, Gardening, pottery making, travel, West Middle School PTA President elect
Hiccups are a result of the muscle in your upper abdomen (your diaphragm) having a spasm or a 'twitch' like movement. Since the diaphragm is the muscle that actively moves when you breathe in and out, this spasm or 'twitch' breaks the normal rhythm of your breath. The well known 'hiccup' sound is made as breath gets forced out differently and a flap like structure in your airway, called the glottis, slaps shut. Hiccups stop when the diaphragm muscle stops its spasm. So, it's not the water that stops the hiccups it's actually the swallowing of the water that can break the cycle of the spasm and return the diaphragm to its smooth pattern. Swallowing slowly and resisting the urge to hiccup is a way of gently counter pressuring the muscle spasm which can break the cycle. Many different remedies have been reported to 'cure the hiccups'. Among these are drinking water upside down, putting a spoon in a glass of water and placing the handle against your temple as you swallow, holding your breath, eating a teaspoon of sugar - have you heard of any others? You'll notice that almost all of the 'cures' involve something to do with swallowing. Hiccups usually are only annoying and inconvenient but occasionally, hiccups have been reported to last many hours to several days - even a month! This can cause problems with eating, sleeping and general well-being. Further evaluation by your health care provider and possibly medication may be needed to help quiet the muscle and stop the hiccups.