According to the National Safety Council, choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional injury death. You were probably warned about the danger of choking when you were a child, but would you really know what to do if someone around you is choking? If you don’t know the right reflexes to use, you should learn them, experts say.
“In choking, there is an obstruction in a person’s airway and inaction will unfortunately result in choking and asphyxiation,” said Dr. Eric Adkins, an emergency physician at Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University.
You also need to react quickly, says Dr. Danelle Fisher, chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif.
“Sometimes you have minutes or even seconds to clear the blockage in the airways before permanent damage is done. This is a scary situation that requires an immediate reaction. »
Many organizations offer courses on what to do if someone is choking, including the Red Cross. But if you don’t have time to take a course, it’s important to have some basic knowledge of what to do in an emergency. Here are tips from the experts.
Which people are more likely to choke?
Children under 4, in particular, are more likely to choke “because they have smaller airways and are not used to handling different textures of food,” says Dr. Fisher.
In adults, swallowing function may change, increasing the risk of choking.
Choking can happen in a variety of situations, but experts say the main causes for children are food, coins and toys.
For adults, the most common cause of choking is almost always food related. However, older people may have problems chewing and swallowing, which can cause choking.
What to do if a baby is choking
If there are other people around, Dr Fisher recommends asking them to call 18 or 112 while you act. And, if you’re alone, try to clear the airways first.
If the child is under a year old, hold the baby face down and give him a vigorous pat on the back, aiming for the shoulder blades, says Dr. Fisher. This creates strong vibrations and pressure in the airways, which can often dislodge the object.
The British Red Cross recommends giving up to five back blows with the baby facing along your thigh, head lower than their bottom and their head supported. If back blows don’t help, lift the baby’s face up, place two fingers in the center of their chest just below the nipples and push down hard up to five times. This pushes air out of the baby’s lungs and can help clear a blockage, according to the British Red Cross.
What to do if a child is choking
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends performing the Heimlich maneuver on choking children. Again, if other people are with you, ask them to call 18 or 112, while you are on the move. You can do this when the child is lying down, sitting or standing.
If he is sitting or standing, stand behind him and wrap your arms around his waist. Place the thumb side of your fist in the center of his stomach, grab that fist with your free hand and press inward with quick upward thrusts. Repeat these thrusts until the child spits out the object or begins to gasp or cough.
If the child is unconscious, the AAP says to open their mouth with your thumb holding their tongue and your fingers wrapped around the lower jaw (this pulls the tongue away from the back of the throat). You can clear the airways in this way. If you see something blocking the airway, try to remove it with your finger, but be careful, as this can push the object further.
If the child hasn’t started breathing again, gently tilt his head back and lift his chin, says the AAP. Then, put your own mouth over his mouth, pinch his nose, and give two breaths lasting one and a half to two seconds. Then go back to the Heimlich maneuver. Keep repeating the steps until the child is breathing again or help arrives.
What to do if an elderly person is choking
For adults, it’s important to start by asking them if they’re choking, says Dr. Adkins. If they indicate yes, the American Red Cross recommends doing the same number for a child. Give them five back blows, followed by five stomach blows, if the blows don’t dislodge the object.
If you do not succeed in removing the object, call 18 or 112.
Even if the object has been removed, you should still seek medical attention, as there may be complications.