By Dr. Peter Kadile

Dr. Kadile, I frequently will have hiccups after drinking beer but not wine. The hiccups will usually last until I sleep them off and be gone by the morning. What exactly causes hiccups and is there a faster way to get rid of them? – Joan, La Quinta

Joan, hiccups are caused by involuntary spasm of the diaphragm. The diaphragm is the muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity and is responsible for respiration. Why hiccups actually occur and why certain people are more prone to them is unknown, but the condition has been associated with:

  • eating hot food
  • eating too much
  • eating too fast
  • eating spicy food
  • drinking carbonated beverages
  • drinking alcohol
  • heartburn or acid reflux
  • certain medications for pain and sedation
  • increased stress, excitement or anxiety

There is no known 100% effective cure for hiccups, but several remedies are popular and may work, such as holding your breath or getting scared. When you hold your breath, your body retains carbon dioxide and causes your brain to focus on improving oxygen supply relieving the diaphragm spasm. Getting scared may restart your breathing pattern, thus relieving the hiccups. Other possible solutions:

  • slowly drink ice cold water
  • gargle with very cold water
  • bite a lemon
  • swallow a teaspoon of sugar
  • breathe into a paper bag

Hiccups will generally go away on their on in less than two days, but if they persist any longer, then you should see your doctor for further evaluation since they can be associated with some serious medical conditions. There are prescription medications that may help, but in my experience these medications rarely work.