October 07, 2010

Treatment for Hiccups Based on Science

So... I came across a few references addressing treatment of hiccups (otherwise known as singultus) based on science rather than heresay. Here are a few methods than can be done at home without the need for medications or procedures.

It is felt that hiccups may be secondary to irritation of the phrenic nerve (which innervates the diaphragm). As such, scientific treatment of hiccups have relied on increasing PaCO2 (breath holding, breathing into a paper bag), therapy using diaphragm relaxation (baclofen or phrenic nerve block), or positive airway pressure.

So, one paper described a technique called supra-supramaximal inspiration that would increase PaCO2, diaphragmatic immobilization, and positive airway pressure. The technique is as follows:

Patients are instructed to inspire maximally, hold the breath for 10 seconds, then add an additional, small, “supra-maximal” inspiration, without any expiration. The breath is held for 5 seconds, followed by a third, “supra-supramaximal” inspiration, held for 5 seconds, before resuming normal breathing.

A variant on this technique requires an assistant. The assistant first applies firm pressure just anterior to the tragus of the ear, firm enough to completely occlude the ear canal. The patient than drinks a glass of water for about 10 seconds. If no liquid is available, the Valsalva manoeuvre would suffice.

In another method, pressure is applied to the sphenopalatine ganglion. This method involves sliding a finger (or thumb) to the junction between the hard and soft palate in the mouth. In this region, firm pressure is appled for 5-10 seconds towards the back-top part of the head. Enough pressure needs to be applied to cause some pain. One can massage this junction as well. I believe this method was reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, but for the life of me, I can't find the reference.

Digital rectal massage has been reported in the literature to help stop hiccups, mainly by disrupting the vagal afferent limb of the hiccup reflex arc. Name says it all. Essentially, you stick a finger up the anus and massage the area firmly until hiccups stop.

Direct vagal stimulation, such as by carotid massage, Valsalva maneuver, and ocular pressure have also been reported.

Miracle hiccough cure gets the attention it deserves. BMJ. 2006 December 9; 333(7580): 1222.
doi: 10.1136/bmj.39051.721632.3A.

Bloodletting and miraculous cures. BMJ 2006;333:1127-a (25 November.)

Termination of idiopathic persistent singultus (hiccup) with Supra-Supramaximal Inspiration. J Emerg Med. 2004 Nov;27(4):416-7.

Termination of intractable hiccups with digital rectal massage. J Intern Med. 1990 Feb;227(2):145-6.
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Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids.

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