WHO: UT Health San Antonio neurointensivist and associate professor Ali Seifi.
WHAT: A cure for the friggin’ hiccups.
WHY IT’S SO GREAT: Hiccups are one of the extremely low-level scourges that come with a human body. They may not be deadly (though tell that to Pope Pius XII), but they are annoying, embarrassing, and inconvenient, a tiny rebellion of our bodies against our general sense of control and well-being. And while the obnoxious affliction tends to go away on its own after a time—unless, as was the case for the poor pope, they’re the sign of a more serious underlying issue—the moments during which our diaphragms spasm, leading to a silly sound escaping our lips and a jolt to the rest of our bodies, are nobody’s favorite.
Accordingly, there are a variety of homespun cures for the condition. These folk remedies range from the usually-fairly-effective (a glass of warm water) to the useless (having someone jump out from behind a bush to shout “Boo!”) to the more-trouble-than-they’re-worth (standing on your head while breathing into a bag), but there’s not really a whole lot of science behind them. Seifi, however, has addressed that issue—and created a product that can cure each instance of the hiccups as it happens. What is it? It’s a straw, basically. After one drinks a sip of water through the device, it instantly relieves the hiccups.
Why do you need a $14 straw when you can get straws at any fast food restaurant for free? The answer, of course, is science. According to the patent for the device (which is marketed as HiccAway), “The hiccup-relieving apparatus includes a body with a first end having a mouthpiece, a second end having a restriction in the body between the first end and the second end.” This generates enough pressure to lower the diaphragm while also activating the epiglottis (the flap of cartilage at the root of the tongue). Why does this work? As the HiccAway website explains, “The creator of HiccAway has already figured out all of the details, you just have to use this groundbreaking hiccup treatment to understand that it doesn’t matter how it works, just that it works.”
That’s not exactly a satisfying answer, but a story in the Atlantic about hiccup cures (which notes that research around something that can be solved for a few bucks with a reusable device is often limited) delves a little deeper into the science. Hiccups end, Seifi theorizes, when there’s sufficient pressure in the diaphragm. He compares it to a garden hose. “Imagine you have a water hose and you open the faucet,” Seifi told the magazine. “If you put half your thumb in front of the hose, the flow stays the same, but by changing the diameter, the speed of the fluid changes; it ejects more.” Why does that work? Um. Actually, let’s go back to “it doesn’t matter how it works, just that it works.”
If you aren’t interested in shelling out $14, there is also a free method, created by New York City surgeon Luc Morris. As the Atlantic explained, this is a relatively simple six-part breathing exercise. This approach works similarly to the HiccAway, except that it relies on your memory rather than on a cheap plastic gadget. If you, like us, are very lazy or distractible, you might be better off just buying the straw.
Hopefully, your life is largely hiccup-free—but when they do come up, it’ll be nice to have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that for a mere $14, you can end it just by sipping a magic straw.