What To Do If Someone Is Choking?

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elderly choking on food: what to do

Why Do People Choke?  

Have you ever been sitting at a restaurant, enjoying your meal, when suddenly you begin to cough repeatedly? This is often referred to as food “going down the wrong pipe.” It’s an embarrassing experience as it creates unwanted attention for those around you. Fortunately, this form of choking isn’t known to be dangerous and the recovery process is simple: drink some water and wait for your throat to clear up. 

Now, let’s imagine a more intense scenario. Your child is at the fair eating their favorite hot dog while laughing with friends. Suddenly, he or she starts to show signs of distress and difficulty breathing. You can see the panic surge over them as they gasp for air. Your child is choking, what do you do? A common instant may be to pat them on the back, or you may put your hand down their throat to help them dislodge the food or object, but what if you’re causing more harm than good? 

There are many forms of choking, some more severe than others. Choking is common and can even be fatal. Witnessing somebody choking can be a terrifying experience, especially for those who are unsure how to help the person choking without worsening the situation. 

Hot dogs, popcorn, lollipops and jelly beans – these are some of our favorite foods and snacks. But these foods are common foods that people choke on, especially children. Choking usually occurs during eating – eating too quickly, laughing while eating, or taking too big of a bite. Let’s get into the steps to take when trying to help yourself, somebody else, or your child when choking. With basic knowledge and tips about what you can do to help, you’ll know exactly what to do when facing such a situation. 

first aid choking in kids

Common Causes Of Choking

There are many causes of choking, the following are several most common reasons that may lead to choking: 

Mechanical causes AKA Not Eating Carefully:

Taking too large of bits, eating while speaking or laughing, or eating too quickly are common mechanical causes that lead to choking. 

Swallowing objects:

Our mouths are designed to turn solid foods into perfectly shaped mush, making it easy to chew and swallow while eating. Objects such as tooth-picks, bottle lids, and corks may not conform to the correct shape like food does and can fall down the trachea which may lead to choking. 

Neurological causes:

Swallowing is directed by signals from the brain to the muscles of the mouth and throat. Brain disorders can affect the nerves and negatively impact the brain mechanism guiding the individual to chewing and swallowing correctly, which could lead to choking. 

Musculoskeletal causes:

Weakness of the muscles of the mouth or throat can make swallowing less effective causing difficulties chewing and swallowing. One out of two people suffer from musculoskeletal disorder, making it common for those with the disorder to choke on food or liquids. 

 Allergic reactions:

Severe allergies can cause swelling in the back of the mouth that can block the airflow. This can be dangerous if you are allergic to something that you are not aware of, as you may ignore the signs until you begin to choke and experience difficulty breathing. 

How To Help Someone Who Is Choking 

There are signs to look for when someone is choking that you should be aware of. The universal sign for choking is hands clutched to the throat, but there are other indications which may help you determine whether or not someone is choking according to the Mayo Clinic First Aid Guide

  • Inability to talk
  • Difficulty breathing/loud breathing/wheezing 
  • Coughing, which may be weak or forceful 
  • Skin, lips, and nails turning blue
  • Flushed skin, pale looking
  • Loss of consciousness

If the individual is able to cough forcefully, the person should keep coughing and it’s safe to encourage them to do so. If the person is choking and can’t talk, the American Red Cross recommends a “five-and-five” approach: 

Give 5 back blows:

Stand to the side behind a choking adult. For children, you can kneel down behind them. 

  1. Place one arm across the chest for support
  2. Bend the person over at the waist so the upper body is parallel with the ground
  3. Deliver five separate back blows between the person’s shoulder blades with the heel of your hand

Give 5 abdominal thrusts: Perform five abdominal thrusts

  1. Stand behind the person who is choking
  2. Place your arms around their waist and bend them forward
  3. Clench 1 fist and place it above the belly button 
  4. Put the other hand on top of your fist and pull sharply inwards and upwards 
  5. Repeat 5 times 

Alternate between 5 blows and 5 thrusts:

Repeat this process until the blockage is dislodged. 

What To Do If You Are Choking: Performing Abdominal Thrusts and Heimlich Maneuver On Yourself 

If you’re alone and choking, call 911. While you are waiting for the paramedics, there are some things you can do to help yourself and attempt to dislodge the item:

  • Place a first slightly above your belly button/navel. 
  • Grasp your fist with the other hand and bend over a hard surface, like a table, chair or countertop.  
  • Move your fist inward and upward. 

What To Do If A Pregnant Woman or Obese Person Is Choking: 

To clear the airway of a pregnant woman or obese person, you can: 

  • Position your hands a little bit higher than advised with a regular Heimlich maneuver, at the base of the breastbone, just above the joining of the lowest rib
  • Proceed as with the Heimlich maneuver, pressing hard into the chest which a quick thrust 
  • Repeat until the food or blockage is dislodged. If the person becomes unconscious, there are steps you can follow. 

What To Do If The Person Choking Has Fallen Unconscious 

  • Lower the person on his back onto the floor, with arms to the side. 
  • Clear the airway. If a blockage is visible at the back of the throat, reach a finger into the mouth and attempt to gently remove the blockage. Don’t try to sweep your finger if you can’t see the object. Be cautious of not pushing the food or object deeper into the airway. 
  • Begin CPR. If the object is lodged and the person doesn’t respond after you take the previous advised measures.

how to treat choking

Let’s Be Prepared For Emergencies With FOUND ME

Now that we’ve covered the steps to follow when helping yourself and others when choking, there is an extra measure of safety you can take. FOUND ME is a company that can help you or a loved one in case of a medical emergency. FOUND ME offers interactive bracelets and necklaces with unique QR codes. If you or a loved one has an emergency (accident…or an allergic reaction), a paramedic or first responder can scan the QR code and gain access to important vital information, such as blood type, allergy, etc. And rest assured, it’s all confidential. You can set the FOUND ME app so that your medical records will be shared only after one of your emergency contacts allows it. 

Also when first responders scan the FOUND ME QR code, up to five people in your emergency contact list will be notified immediately and a chat or video chat can be started if needed. 

FOUND ME App can also be used to keep track of your medical records while storing them all in one safe place. To learn more about FOUND ME and everything it has to offer, visit FOUND ME

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