First aid for choking

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Choking inevitably occurs once a foreign object becomes wedged in the throat, obstructing the air flow. In most cases, adults end up choking due to a piece of food while young children often swallow small objects. Since choking disrupts the flow of oxygen to the brain, it is important to administer first aid as quickly as possible. The universal sign for choking is hands clutched to the throat. If the individual does not give this signal, look for other indications such as:

  • Trouble breathing or raucous breathing
  • Inability to talk
  • Incapacity to cough in a forceful manner
  • Bluish skin, lips and nails
  • Fainting

In case choking is taking place, it is recommended to follow the “five-and-five” approach when performing first aid care.

  • Deliver 5 back blows initially between the shoulder blades on the individual using the heel of your hand.
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Performing back blows on choking victim
  • Perform 5 abdominal thrusts or also called the Heimlich maneuver.
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Abdominal thrusts performed on choking victim
  • Alternate between the 5 blows and 5 thrusts until the blockage is dislodged.

Always remember that it is not suitable to deliver the back blows if you have not learned the technique yet both approaches for first aid are acceptable.

Performing abdominal thrusts (Heimlich maneuver)

  • Stand behind the individual who is choking and enclose your arms over the stomach while tipping the person slightly forward.
  • Form a fist with your other hand and position it faintly over the navel of the individual.
  • Grasp the fist using your other hand and press hard into the abdomen with a fast upward thrust that is similar to lifting the individual up.
  • Perform 5 abdominal thrusts if required. In case the blockage is not yet dislodged, repeat the five-and-five cycle.

In case you are the only one present, you can deliver back blows along with abdominal thrusts prior to calling for emergency assistance. If another individual is available, instruct him/her to get in touch with emergency assistance while you are delivering first aid. In case the individual becomes loses consciousness, execute standard CPR with chest compression along with rescue breaths.

How to clear the airway of an unconscious individual

  • Position the individual on his/her back onto the floor.
  • Clear the airway by using a finger that you will insert into the mouth and sweep out the blockage. Just be careful not to push the blockage deeper since it easily occurs in young children.
  • Start CPR if the blockage is still lodged and the individual has not responded even if the measures above were performed. The chest compression used in CPR might dislodge the blockage just make sure that you will check the mouth periodically.

Always remember that choking can occur anytime. It is important to prepare for these scenarios by learning how to perform the Heimlich maneuver and CPR in a qualified first-aid training class.


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