Dr. Ali Seifi, Associate Professor of Neurosurgery and Director of the Neurological ICU at the University of Texas, saw many patients suffering from neurological injuries have the added misery of hiccups as they recovered. There were times a patient was more tormented by the hiccups than by the recovery process for, say, post-brain surgery. Also, Ali had seen chemotherapy trigger hiccups in patients. Why had so many aches and pains been alleviated, but not the annoying, embarrassing, sometimes maddening hiccups. He resolved that he would find a solution, and now we have the HiccAway, a drug-free instant cure for hiccups.
What Is a Hiccup?
A hiccup is a sudden, involuntary spasm of the diaphragm, a muscle that separates the lungs from the abdomen and regulates breathing. When the phrenic nerve (that runs from the neck to the lower chest) is irritated, it stimulates the diaphragm. The diaphragm spasms, and the brain sends a frantic “SOS” to the vagus nerve that controls the epiglottis, a flap at the back of the throat that directs food into the esophagus and air into the lungs. The epiglottis seals itself shut. The body protests with a “hiccup.”
A person may hiccup an unimaginable 60 times in a minute. Many cases of the hiccups are short-lived. Some last for hours or days. On rare occasions, 68 years: Poor beleaguered Charles Osborne, no one is trying to usurp his position as #1 in the Guinness World Records.
What Causes Hiccups?
More things than most of us have ever imagined. An abbreviated list includes:
- Eating too fast, eating spicy foods, drinking carbonated or alcoholic beverages, chewing gum and smoking
- Anxiety, stress and excitement (most likely the cause if the hiccups stop during sleep)
- Neurological conditions, such as brain aneurysms or strokes
- Gastrointestinal conditions, such as acid reflux and peptic ulcers
- Infections and inflammations, such as pneumonia and bronchitis
- Medications, in addition to chemotherapy, sedatives and pain killers
Science Behind the HiccAway
Ali determined that he needed to find a way to stimulate both the phrenic and vagus nerves at the same time. In that way, he could “fool the brain” to reset the diaphragm and stop the hiccups.
The solution is the Forced Inspiratory Suction and Swallow Tool (FISST). A high amount of negative pressure is needed to forcefully suction water through a straw with resistance in it. That suction requires maximum contraction of the diaphragm by activating the phrenic nerve. By swallowing the water immediately, the vagus nerve activates and the hiccups are gone.
In brief, FISST activates the phrenic and vagus nerves at the same time, stopping the interaction between the two that causes hiccups.
How to Use the HiccAway
The HiccAway works on people of all ages—the only requirement is that the person be able to drink from a straw. The device is an L-shaped, hard, plastic straw with child- and adult-sized pinholes on one end and a mouthpiece at the other.
- Set the cap for “Child” or “Adult.” The “Child” setting is a larger hole because younger children cannot create as much suction. The “Adult” setting is a smaller hole.
- Place the cap end into a shallow glass of water (less than half full). Submerging the device lowers the power of suction.
- Sip from the tube immediately. Otherwise, the device will fill with water and become less effective.
- Forcefully sip from the mouthpiece and, as soon as the water reaches your mouth, swallow, all in one breath. Doing so keeps the phrenic and vagus nerves occupied. They have been interrupted from causing unwanted spasms in the diaphragm.
- Your hiccups are gone! If not, repeat two-three times without stopping.
HiccAway Appears in a Noted Journal
Ali’s research was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. He also reports on the results of a small study in which the HiccAway worked for 92% of the volunteers with hiccups, and all found it easy to use.