I've Had Hiccups For Two Straight Years: My Life is Hell
Getting the hiccups is annoying, but unless you've angered a witch lately, they do eventually go away. It's just that "eventually" can mean a very, very long time. We spoke to Rachel, apparent witch-angerer, who has had nonstop hiccups for two years. Here's what she told us about being a Simpsons gag come to life.
Nobody Knows Exactly What Causes Hiccups, So How Can You Cure Them?
What are hiccups, exactly, aside from annoying? Rachel, who is something of an expert at this point, explains:
"In medical terms, hiccups are intermittent diaphragmatic spasms. Basically, the muscle that controls your lungs (the diaphragm) gets pissed off and starts twitching. The twitches are the hiccups, because your vocal cords get pinched by the same nerve that controls the diaphragm. If the hiccups stick around for a while, they're called 'intractable,' rather than 'chronic,' because the medical establishment likes to mix it up sometimes."
We're sure the nomenclature comes as a big relief when it's 3 a.m. and you're still up hiccuping.
There is literally no end to the list of things that can piss off your diaphragm. "There are a ridiculous number of causes," Rachel continues. "The vagus or phrenic nerves, which control the diaphragm, can be irritated by something like multiple sclerosis. Eating too fast can irritate the muscle. Alcohol, hormones, or electrolyte imbalances can impair nerve function. A brain tumor can cause a defect in the nervous system. Anxiety can trigger a stress response, which can lead to hiccups. Underlying medical conditions like pancreatitis or asthma can cause hiccups. Even breathing too fast can trigger a spasm."
"I've been able to narrow down the list of possible causes to fucking anything."
There's at least one cause no one's identified, since doctors have yet to figure out what's causing Rachel's hiccups. "One theory is that the vagus/phrenic nerves are aggravated by my back problems," Rachel says. "Another is that polycystic ovarian syndrome is raising my intercranial pressure (there's too much fluid in my brain and spinal cord), and that's what's irritating the nerves."
That's all well and good, but ask Rachel how much theories have helped her. She'll respond with *hic*.
She Is Always, Always Hiccuping
Rachel's hiccups never stop -- not even when she sleeps. It's been rough: "I used to wake up every two hours or so, and then it would take me anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes to fall asleep again." The good news is that she's "mastered the art of sleeping through them," meaning she usually achieves a sterling six to seven hours of sleep out of the nine she allots herself every night, with only three or four very rude awakenings. The bad news is that it's probably making the hiccups worse.
A hiccup/snore combo can't be doing any favors for any neighbors trying to sleep, either.
"Nobody's quite sure why fatigue and insomnia cause hiccups, mostly because sleep is still poorly understood on a physical level. But it's thought to have something to do with the way the nerves connect in the brain."
The waking world isn't much better. "I don't talk much anymore, because the hiccups interrupt me mid-sentence. When it's someone I know, I ignore the hiccup and keep on rolling, because they can fill in the blank themselves. If it's someone I don't know well, I backtrack and start the whole sentence over again. My little cousin, who just turned six, freaked out over the noises when he met me for the first time. He kept looking around, trying to figure out where it was coming from. They scare him -- he won't come within three feet of me."
Well yeah, he doesn't know the rules of this horror movie yet. What if the curse is contagious?
At least werewolf howls sound cool.
Her writing has also suffered: "The big hiccups make my whole body jerk, and so there are marks in my notebook where my pen jumped across the page." She even gets physically hurt: "I hit my head on the steering wheel once because I hiccuped and sneezed at the same time. I've pulled muscles in my back and groin by hiccuping."
In the groin? Are ... are we hiccuping wrong?
Hiccup Fetishes Are Shockingly Common
Of course hiccup fetishes are a thing. "Before I ever went to the doctor," Rachel says, "I Googled around to see what I could find, and one of [the websites I found was] hiccupforum.com. I thought it was for people who had hiccups and clicked, and then I found out it was a fetish site. They date back far enough that they were originally a Yahoo group."
After a few months, she had forgotten about her brief foray into respiratory kinks ... until she signed up for a dating website. "I mentioned the hiccups as a 'Ha-ha-isn't-this-funny' type of thing" ... And she severely and immediately regretted it. "One guy told me his 'magical cum' was going to cure my hiccups. Someone else said it would be hot if my hiccups kept going during blowjobs or sex. Still another said he wanted to have sex because the hiccups would make my pussy get really tight."
"I'm just a stock photo model pretending to be a doctor, but I'm still
confident in saying that is complete bullshit, medically speaking."
And so, in the documented tradition of naive girls who live in fairy tales, Rachel's curiosity swept her headfirst down the rabbit hole. "There are a few hiccup videos on mainstream porn sites," she says. But as a perfectly safe-for-work fetish, the community mostly lives on YouTube.
As if the playlist of 66 hiccuping videos simply titled "Masturbate" didn't clear that up.
"There's a user called hiccupclips who describes himself as 'Just a guy with a hiccup fetish just trying to further the cause,' as well as a guy named Joe Zeno who has a playlist with 344 videos. There's a [now-defunct channel] called MaleHiccups, and a guy calling himself jacone69 with four hiccup playlists, which are mostly videos featuring women hiccuping in their underwear or bathing suits. All of these people came up on the very first page when I searched for 'hiccups' on YouTube. The most popular site (or at least, the one that seems to get linked to most often) is Hiccup Lovers."
Rachel says the hiccup fixation is "weirdly well-documented, but unstudied from a psychological perspective, though layman theories say it has to do with muscle spasms, the shape the mouth makes during a hiccup, the way breasts jiggle, [a hiccup] sounding like a moan, or alcohol intoxication." That or, you know, some people simply have weird boners.
None Of The Conventional Treatments For Hiccups Work
Rachel gave traditional medicine a go when it became clear that drinking from an upside-down glass for a few months wasn't working. When doctors could find nothing physically wrong with her, they loaded her up on psychiatric meds. "Thorazine knocked me out, to the point where I slept through my twin sister's college graduation," she says. "But I wasn't hiccuping while I was asleep, so it did its job!"
Less helpful if you're trying not to hiccup while driving.
It was more successful than Xanax or Cymbalta, which didn't do a damn thing, but she needed to be awake occasionally, so she moved on to Prilosec OTC (a medication for heartburn), Flonase (an allergy medication), topiramate (an anticonvulsant), Zanaflex (a muscle relaxer), Gablofen (another muscle relaxer), levetiracetam (another anticonvulsant), Reglan (another heartburn medication), and lamotrigine (yet another anticonvulsant). It was the pharmacological equivalent of throwing darts at the wall, if a bad throw meant getting a brand-new curse.
"Flonase is a steroid, which meant my facial hair got really thick," Rachel says. "Levetiracetam gave me nosebleeds, made it hard to breathe, and made me all-around miserable for the week I could stand taking the lowest possible dose ... The topiramate made me lose feeling in my arms and legs. The muscle relaxants made me so hungry for three days after I took them that I could eat an entire pizza and not be full, when usually a single apple is a good lunch for me." And that's only the side effects she personally experienced. "Thorazine and Reglan have both been known to cause tardive dyskinesia, which is when the hand gets stuck in a claw-like shape, potentially forever. Lamotrigine can cause Stevens-Johnson syndrome, which is a deadly rash." Eternal hiccups are starting to sound okay in comparison.
In fairness, sudden-onset rash death would end the hiccups.
"Weirdly enough, the only thing that helped is an epidural steroid injection for back pain, which has been known to cause hiccups," Rachel says, with appropriately bitter irony. Though that wasn't exactly worth it either: "That relief only lasted a few hours, and the hormone fuckup lasted far longer and had much more severe side effects than the Flonase. Ever wonder what happens when women have too much testosterone? Facial hair and painful, irregular periods, at a minimum. After that last injection, my period lasted for 32 days. I thought I was dying. And throw an epidural in with hiccups, you're just asking for the needle to be misplaced, the drug to go in wrong, or for your body to spasm and cause the needle to puncture the spinal cord."
It seems gigantic needles and sharp, unpredictable jerking don't mesh well. Who knew?
Obviously, the antidote Rachel sought would not be found in a pill. That's when she started to suspect the answer may have been under her nose all along. No, lower. Lower. Looooowerrrrr ...
The Less Conventional Cures Are Bizarre And Untested
Remember all that talk about the vagus nerve earlier? Rachel explains with a much better analogy than we could come up with: "A nerve is essentially a long wire. Electricity comes in one end when you flick the light switch and flows out to power a light. The light goes off when the electricity stops. Sometimes, a flickering light is because of a problem in the switch (the brain), the wire (the nerve), or the light itself (the diaphragm). The psych meds work by fixing the problem at the switch, and the muscle relaxants work by fixing the problem at the light. But what if the problem is in the wire? That's why so many 'cures' focus on swallowing -- drinking water fast, eating a teaspoon of sugar, and gargling saltwater all trick the nerve into 'resetting' itself."
We suggest an enormous piece of cake. Probably won't work, but you'll feel generally better about things.
An increasingly desperate Rachel tried all of that and more. Nothing worked. But the vagus nerve also has a dirty side.
"The vagus nerve controls more than the diaphragm -- it runs from the mouth all the way down to your ass," Rachel explains. That means, if you've run out of things to swallow, "a digital rectal massage [aka fingering your ass] can also reset the nerve. Another weird cure is an orgasm."
Ideally without any of the dudes from back in entry three.
You have our full permission to explain away your browser history by insisting that you had the hiccups, but sadly, neither of those remedies worked for Rachel. But there may be hope yet: "On the surgical side, implanting a vagus nerve stimulator has been tried, and it was successful."
As well as treating pretty much any damn thing you can think of.
So all she's gotta do is walk into a hospital and ask for one surgery, please. What's holding her back? Fear that her OKCupid hit rate will fall? "The surgery's experimental, so insurance won't cover it," she explains. There's also the added complication that "none of my doctors really know anything about it." So now she has to wait on the FDA's famously speedy approval process, find a pot of gold, and then hope that her surgeon's good at "wingin' it."
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