Seeing someone choking is an alarming experience but choking emergencies can happen at anytime. Often, the coughing and gagging reflex when food or something else is stuck in the airway, clears the obstruction without intervention. But when it doesn’t, and the person can’t breathe or talk, urgent help is needed.
How to Recognize Choking Emergencies
You may think it’s easy to see when someone is choking or to recognize choking emergencies, but if the blockage in the airway is severe enough, they may not be able to cough and splutter or make much audible noise.
Other signs of choking emergencies you should look out for include:
- Noisy breathing or having trouble drawing breath
- Not being able to talk
- Lips, skin and nails may start to turn blue
- They might lose consciousness
Typically, people who’re choking also grab or clutch at their throats as a reflex action because that’s where the trouble is. This action isn’t a reliable indicator though, because not everyone does it.
How to Help Someone During a Choking Emergency
There are two recommended ways of giving aid to someone who’s choking: Giving firm blows to the back or performing the Heimlich Maneuver.
Back blows are one technique to help someone dislodge whatever is choking them, and is recommended by the Red Cross.
- Lean the person forwards
- With the heel of your hand, firmly strike the back between the shoulder blades.
- Repeat five times
If this doesn’t work and the person is still unable to dislodge the blockage and breathe again, go on to perform abdominal thrusts (another name for the Heimlich Maneuver).
- Stand behind the person and put your arms around their waist.
- Form a fist, and place your fisted thumb above the person’s navel but below the ribcage so you’re pressing the soft, stomach area not the bones.
- Grasp your fist with your other hand
- Thrust firmly upward, into the person’s body at roughly 45 degrees. It’s similar to the way you’d move if you were trying to lift them.
- Try not to squeeze with your arms, but direct all the power of the thrust into the area under your fist.
- Repeat the movement five times if necessary
The Red Cross recommends a ‘five and five’ approach. In this, you perform five back blows followed by five abdominal thrusts, and alternate the movements until the item is dislodged.
Meanwhile, someone else should have called the emergency services so they are on their way just in case you can’t dislodge the blockage or the person needs hospital care, or to get them breathing again.
You should never try to physically remove a blockage from a person’s throat unless you can see the object and safely sweep it out with a finger. This is especially important for infants, but also for adults. The danger is that you’d accidentally force the item deeper into the airway.
Performing CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation)
If the blockage is forced out, but the person still isn’t breathing, they’ll need Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation or CPR to restart the breathing reflex. CPR is hard if you’re not trained, but here are the basic movements:
CPR For a Baby or Child
Check breathing by getting close, listening and trying to feel breath on your cheek. If there is no breathing:
In babies, press down about 1.5 inches on the breastbone, or about 2 inches on a child. Ribs are fragile, so don’t press too hard. Repeat about 30 times, letting the chest rise completely before doing the next one. Do rescue breathing by covering a child’s mouth with yours and pinching the nose closed, and completely covering both mouth and nose in babies. Breathe into the child’s mouth for around one second, and allow the chest to rise between breaths.
CPR for Adults
In adults, use the heel of your hand in the center of their chest, with your other hand on top. Position yourself directly over the person so your arms are straight, and push down rapidly by at least 2 inches.
Allow the chest to rise between pushes, and continue until the person starts breathing. If there is a defibrillator nearby, use that but follow the instructions. Rescue breathing can be used in between chest compressions.
Learning CPR in Houston
Learning CPR is hard if not impossible simply by reading or watching videos, but there is CPR and first aid training available to groups or individuals in Houston.
Community health education services offers classes in Houston, Cypress, Tomball, Spring, The Woodlands and surrounding areas. Instructors are professionally qualified and you’ll receive AHA approved certification following your course or class.
You’ll have the knowledge and the confidence to help during choking emergencies, and may even save a life one day.