Helping someone who is choking

Choking caused by foreign body airway obstruction accounts for approximately 3,000 deaths every year in the US. The recognition and proper management of choking is of key importance to safety in homes, restaurants and other public places.

The most common and effective procedure for assisting a choking victim is the Heimlich Maneuver. This procedure lifts the diaphragm and forces enough air from the lungs to create an artificial cough.

The Heimlich Maneuver can be used to assist both conscious and unconscious patients. This week we will look at assisting a conscious patient.

With a conscious patient it is very important to first determine if they require your assistance. Once you’ve recognized that someone may be choking (they will usually clutch at the throat) ask him or her ‘are you choking’? If the patient can cough, breathe or speak – DO NOT INTERFERE!

If the patient can’t cough, breathe or speak, ask if you can help them. It is important to note here that in many cases a choking person may be in a state of panic and incapable of responding. Just as you would with an unconscious person you can assume ‘implied consent’ from someone who is unresponsive.

Move behind the patient and wrap your arms around them. Locate the belly button and place a fist (thumb inward) approximately two finger widths above it. Spread your arms wide so you don’t squeeze the rib cage and thrust inward and upward.

Continue thrusts until the object is dislodged or the patient becomes unconscious.

You can also perform the Heimlich Maneuver on yourself by leaning over the back of a chair or any other solid object. Be aware that the trachea (airway) is very delicate and can easily be damaged so it is very important to see a physician after any choking incident.

In upcoming issues we will discuss treating unconscious choking patients, children and infants, and near drowning victims.

This weekly column is only an introduction to emergency care skills and is designed to increase interest in First-Aid/CPR training. For information on courses please contact the Red Cross, a medical professional, or a local dive shop.

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