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Longmont-made device called cure for hiccups

LONGMONT — Uncontrollable hiccups can be so aggravating that after trying various home remedies — including holding one’s breath or being scared by a friend — the sufferer might exclaim, “This is the last straw!”

Who knew that a straw could be the answer?

Those suffering with hiccups simply suck water through the device, triggering a reaction that is designed to stop the spasms. Courtesy Hiccaway

For Victor Fehlberg, president and CEO of Longmont-based Higher Innovations Inc., the answer was just that: a modified, adjustable plastic straw-like device he calls a HiccAway that has become so successful that it caught the attention of billionaire investor Mark Cuban, earned a spot on television’s “Shark Tank” and grossed $774.000 in sales last year.

The idea couldn’t be simpler: The person with hiccups places the device in a glass of water and must suck fairly hard to get a sip.That pressure created by the HiccAway — technically a “singulstat device” named from singultus,the medical term for hiccups — lowers the diaphragm while opening and then closing the epiglottis, the leaf-shaped flap in the throat that keeps food out of the windpipe. According to the HiccAway website, “Doing so stimulates the phrenic and vagus nerves simultaneously, allowing the brain to reset and stop the hiccups.”

“There’s a tiny hole at the bottom of the straw,” Fehlberg said. “Sipping feels pretty normal at first, but that tiny hole restricts the flow so you have to suck harder. That 100 centimeters of water pressure is sufficient to override that spasm signal.”

Hiccups sufferers might be able to emulate the HiccAway’s effect at home, he said, “but most straws are too narrow and aren’t going to have enough water inside it to make it work.” He said sipping a really thick milkshake might produce a similar effect, “but then you might gain weight.”

The HiccAway generates exactly the pressure needed, Fehlberg said. “We’ve calculated the pressure with instruments, and there are different settings for adults and children; it’s adjustable on the device.”

The reusable devices are manufactured by Plastic Molding Technology at 105 Gay St. in Longmont, then packaged and distributed at Fehlberg’s company at 451 21st Ave. They’re sold for around $14 online through his HiccAway website as well as online at such sites as Amazon and Walmart and in stores such as Ace Hardware.

The HiccAway is sold online and through retailers such as Ace Hardware. Courtesy HiccAway

The idea started with Dr. Ali Seifi, an associate professor of neurosurgery and director of the neurological intensive-care unit at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.

“His job was to help patients recovering from neurosurgery, and he had a patient that had hiccups and couldn’t stop,” Fehlberg said. “They gave this patient four glasses of water but he vomited all over himself because he drank too much. So the patient said to Dr. Seifi, ‘You can do this brain surgery but you can’t stop my hiccups?’

“Dr. Seifi said, ‘Yeah, that is weird. We should have something.’ So he started researching home remedies and thought about what nerves were involved.”

Seifi knew that hiccups are caused when the vagus and phrenic nerves start spasming, Fehlberg said, “and he thought, ‘What if I could come up with something that provided stimulus to those nerves?’ Well, the first iteration was pretty bad, but I took some of his ideas and came up with this.”

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported on clinical tests that showed the device was 92% effective in stopping hiccups, and Fehlberg launched the product in 2020 while working at Aim Dynamics in Longmont. He started a Kickstarter campaign to fund production, and that successful campaign caught Cuban’s eye. The exposure on “Shark Tank” followed in January 2022, and Cuban was cut in on 20% of Fehlberg’s new company.

“I felt like he understood the product,” Fehlberg said. “We’d been published in JAMA, and when we mentioned that, his ears perked up and he said, ‘I subscribe to that!’ I don’t think the other sharks fully grasped the medical significance.”

The original HiccAways are what Fehlberg described as a “powder blue, a medical blue, since it is a medical device,” but that the company has released additional colors such as purple, pink, royal blue and green so families can make them their own and say, “That’s Billy’s and that’s Mary’s,” he said.

He’s also devised a carrying case, he said, “because women said they needed it in their purse.”

Fehlberg employs just three people and some part-timers, he said, but added that he’s optimistic about his company’s future.

“We’re working on some other items,” he said. “We think we can solve additional problems.”

Not to mention surviving the inevitable hiccups along the way.

Source: BizWest