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What to Do If Someone Is Choking

  • Category: Safety
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What to Do If Someone Is Choking

If you’ve ever been around someone who is choking, you know it’s a scary moment. Choking is fairly common since it can happen as easily as something going “down the wrong pipe,” as the saying goes.

But just because it’s common doesn’t make it any less dangerous. In fact, choking is a common cause of unintentional injury among Americans and is commonly related to eating and drinking.

Would you know what to do if someone is choking? Knowing the basics can help you feel more prepared to handle what can be a scary situation.

5 Steps to Take When Someone Is Choking

It’s a good idea for every adult to have a good understanding of basic first aid and rescue procedures. That includes how to react when someone is choking:

  1. Let the person cough. Coughing may sound incredibly intense, and it can be difficult to listen to someone struggling, but coughing is the best way to dislodge food or something else being choked on.
  2. Call 911. If you’re alone with the person who’s choking, perform two minutes of rescue treatment before calling 911. If other people are around, have someone else call 911 immediately for help from emergency medical transport.
  3. First, try back blows. Bending the person who’s choking over at the waist, put your less dominant arm over the person’s chest. Use your dominant arm to strike five powerful blows between the shoulder blades.
  4. Then try the Heimlich maneuver. Wrap your arms around the person’s upper abdomen. Clenching your fist, place it above the belly button and below the rib cage. Grasp that fist with the other hand, then pull inward and upward quickly. Repeat five times, if needed. If the choking person is obese or pregnant, use chest thrusts rather than abdominal thrusts.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4. Alternate performing each action five times, checking the mouth for the choking object after each full cycle.

If you’re the one choking, try to stay calm. Take slow breaths, then call 911, even if you can’t speak. Try leaning over the back of a chair and pressing into it forcefully to expel the object you’re choking on. You may also be able to perform the Heimlich maneuver on yourself using the directions described above.

What to Do When a Person Stops Breathing

In many cases, this process is enough to clear the choking object and help the person find relief. In some cases, though, a blocked windpipe may cause a person to stop breathing or lose consciousness. Both require additional, potentially life-saving action.

If a person stops breathing or loses consciousness, check once more to see if you can see and remove the item causing the blockage. If not, you’ll need to begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation, also called CPR. To begin, lie the person on a flat surface.

Place one hand on top of the other, then place both in the middle of the person’s chest. Using your body weight, deliver deep chest compressions quickly, aiming for at least 100 compressions per minute.

If the person isn’t breathing, tilt his or her head to open the airway, plug the person’s nose, and seal your mouth over the person’s mouth. Give two large rescue breaths, causing the person’s chest to rise.

Repeat until the person begins breathing or medical personnel arrives.

If you experience choking or another emergency health issue, Altru’s ER is open 24/7, 365 days a year.