First aid: Choking
Choking occurs when a foreign object becomes lodged in the throat or windpipe, blocking the flow of air. In adults, a piece of food often is the culprit. Young children often swallow small objects. Because choking cuts off oxygen to the brain, administer first aid as quickly as possible.
The universal sign for choking is hands clutched to the throat. If the person doesn't give the signal, look for these indications:
If choking is occurring, the Red Cross recommends a "five-and-five" approach to delivering first aid:
The American Heart Association doesn't teach the back blow technique, only the abdominal thrust procedures. It's OK not to use back blows, if you haven't learned the technique. Both approaches are acceptable.
To perform abdominal thrusts (Heimlich maneuver) on someone else:
If you're the only rescuer, perform back blows and abdominal thrusts before calling 911 or your local emergency number for help. If another person is available, have that person call for help while you perform first aid.
If the person becomes unconscious, perform standard CPR with chest compressions and rescue breaths.
To perform abdominal thrusts (Heimlich maneuver) on yourself:
First, if you're alone and choking and you have a landline phone, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. Then, although you'll be unable to effectively deliver back blows to yourself, you can still perform abdominal thrusts to dislodge the item.
Clearing the airway of a pregnant woman or obese person:
Clearing the airway of an unconscious person:
Clearing the airway of a choking infant younger than age 1:
If the child is older than age 1, give abdominal thrusts only.
To prepare yourself for these situations, learn the Heimlich maneuver and CPR in a certified first-aid training course.
Last Updated: 2011-10-13
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