Got the hiccups? SA doctor invents weird-shaped straw that may just cure them

Neurointensivist says design was inspired by son’s McDonald’s McFlurry

Hold your breath, eat a spoonful of sugar, drink from the far side of a cup. How do you cure the hiccups?A neurointensivist at University Health San Antonio has invented a straw that he says brings immediate relief.

SAN ANTONIO – Twin sisters Avery and Paige Squires have had hiccups more often in their six years than many people do in a lifetime. And, it’s no fun.

“These little kids were getting hiccups every single day, and often it would become painful and annoying,” said their mom, Pat Squires.

They tried all kinds of home remedies, like drinking from the far side of a glass to causing a sudden scare.

“Also, cold water with the straw and fingers in the ears, we did that,” Squires said.

Nothing worked very well. So, when Squires, who is also a nurse practitioner, heard about a device called the Hiccaway, she was intrigued.

The Hiccaway is the invention of Dr. Ali Seifi, a neurointensivist with UT Health San Antonio and University Health.. His journey to becoming an inventor began the day when he was making hospital rounds and saw a patient suffering.

“He said, ‘Doctor, you know, I’m very okay with my brain surgery, but what hurts me now is this hiccup,’” Seifi said. “He turned to me and said, ‘Doctor, can you help me please?’”

So, Seifi got to work in his garage and his kitchen table trying to come up with something that could stop the hiccups.

Hiccups begin with a diaphragm spasm, often triggered by something like spicy food. The nerve alerts the brain to close the throat.

“That’s when you hear the hic sound,” the doctor explained.

So he focused on how to interrupt the vicious cycle.

“How can I come up with a device that keeps the diaphragm and the valve in the throat busy at the same time?” he said.

Seifi has a bagful of early plastic prototypes, from a simple test tube to some 3-D printed devices.

While working on design, he was suddenly inspired as he watched his son suck on a McDonald’s McFlurry straw.

The McFlurry straw will not stop hiccups, but Seifi was inspired by the engineering and design.

What he came up with was an L-shaped flat, fat plastic straw device with mouthpiece one end and a tiny hold on the other.

The precisely-sized hole is the pressure valve, and when the hiccuper sips water through it, he has to suck five times harder than normal.

The pressure lowers the diaphragm and interrupts the cycle between the phrenic nerve that controls the diaphragm and the vagus nerve, which controls the epiglottis in the throat, he explained. In short, it fools the brain.

Does it work? In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 92% of people with hiccups who used it reported that it did relieve their hiccups better than home remedies.

“It works instantly,” Seifi said.

He has secured a patent and the Hiccaway is for sale online or in H-E-B stores for about $10.

As for little Avery and Paige, they grab their Hiccaway straws as soon as they start to hiccup. They even have their hiccup straws at school.

“It worked amazingly,” said their mom. “It’s life-changing.”


About the Authors:

As a consumer reporter, Marilyn is all about helping people stay safe and save a buck. Since coming to KSAT in 1985, she’s covered everything from crime to politics, winning awards for her coverage of the Mexican Mafia, Oklahoma tornadoes, children’s transplants, an investigation into voting irregularities and even a hit-and-run Santa Claus.

Luis Cienfuegos is a photographer at KSAT 12.