For most of us, the occasional bout of hiccups is an annoyance that often goes away all on its own, or through some bizarre homegrown cure. For others, however, it can be a serious ongoing issue resulting from a medication or a side effect of surgery. When standing on your head in a kiddie pool full of water while juggling ping pong balls doesn’t work, the HiccAway straw promises to be a more reliable cure.
So what are hiccups, exactly? They start when the diaphragm, the muscle in your chest that contracts so your lungs fill with air, begins to spasm, starting a chain reaction when the vagus nerve panics and quickly closes the epiglottis at the back of your throat, creating that dreaded “hic” sound. It’s an emergency reflex that’s all but useless to modern humans, but we’re stuck with it for a while.
Some claim that cures like repeatedly sipping a glass of water while holding their nose, or simply holding their breath for as long as they can, make the hiccups go away, but Ali Seifi, a neuro-intensive care physician from the University of Texas at San Antonio, believes they’ve come up with a $14 cure that’s far more reliable.
Inspired by the thick spoon/straws that McDonald’s uses to mix and serve its ice cream McFlurry treats, the HiccAway straw features a large opening at the top where users put their mouths, and a very small hole at the bottom that requires a tremendous amount of suction to pull water up through it. While trying to drink with the HiccAway straw, the user’s abdomen is lowered and their epiglottis closes which stimulates the two nerves responsible for controlling those parts of the body, the vagus and the phrenic, which in turn helps the brain reset itself, putting an end to an uncontrolled bout of hiccups. The scientific term for the HiccAway is the FISST, or the forced inspiratory suction and swallow tool, but the former name has a better marketing ring to it.
In recently published research, the creators of the HiccAway reported that of 203 participants in a recent study who responded to a survey about the effectiveness of the straw they tested, over 90% reported it was effective at remedying a bout of hiccups. So it doesn’t work for everyone, nor is the straw a permanent cure that guarantees you’ll never have the hiccups again. But for $14 it’s a small price to pay for what could be even just temporary effective relief for a condition that we may never actually cure. If you’re understandably skeptical, Seifi also suggests that anyone could make their own HiccAway by modifying a McFlurry straw/spoon with a smaller hole at the top, which comes with the added side benefit of ice cream—another thing that will help distract your brain.