Signs of choking
Choking occurs when a piece of food, an object, or a liquid blocks the throat. Children often choke as a result of placing foreign objects into their mouths. Adults can choke from breathing in fumes or eating or drinking too rapidly.
Most people choke at some point in their lives. It’s usually short-lived and doesn’t pose any real danger. However, choking can be dangerous and cause life-threatening complications.
A person who’s choking may cough continuously until they expel the food or liquid from their throat or airway. However, in some cases, the object, food, or liquid gets stuck in the throat and cuts off the air supply.
A person who’s choking may display an inability to:
- make noise
The person may cross their hands over their throat to let you know that they’re choking.
What causes choking?
Children usually choke from placing objects in their mouths. They normally do this out of curiosity. However, they may also choke when eating too quickly or when talking with food in their mouths.
Common objects that children choke on are:
- pencil erasers
- hot dogs
- chewing gum
- cherry tomatoes
- whole grapes
- large pieces of fruit
- large pieces of vegetables
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What to do when someone is choking
Use the Red Cross’ “five-and-five” method to treat a person who’s choking: Hit the person’s back with the heel of your hand five times between the shoulder blades. Next, perform the Heimlich manoeuvre five times. Alternate between the two until the person is no longer choking.
Don’t perform the five-and-five method on a child. You should only give a child the Heimlich manoeuvre.
The Heimlich manoeuvre
Follow these steps to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre:
- Stand behind the person with your arms wrapped around their waist.
- Lean the person forward.
- Ball your hand into a fist and place it on the person’s abdomen, above their navel.
- Use your free hand to grip your fist and press into the person’s abdomen in an upward motion.
- Repeat this method five times.
- If the object is still stuck in the person’s throat, repeat these steps five more times.
You should follow these steps to perform CPR:
- Lay the person down on their back, on a flat surface.
- Kneel on the side of the unconscious person and place your hand in the middle of their chest, palm down.
- Place your free hand over the top of the other. Lean forward with your shoulders and push down quickly, 100 times per minute. This is called chest compression.
- Repeat this process until the person starts breathing again or medical help gets there.
What are the complications associated with choking?
The complications of choking include throat irritation, throat damage, and death from asphyxiation.
How can I prevent choking?
You can prevent your child from choking by keeping their play area free of small objects, such as coins, erasers, and building blocks. Chop your child’s food into small pieces, making it easier for them to swallow. Discourage your child from talking while eating.
Prevent yourself from choking by chewing your food completely, avoiding talking or laughing while eating, and keeping water near you while eating.
A step-by-step guide explaining what to do in a choking emergency.
Choking occurs when a foreign object lodges in the throat or windpipe, blocking the flow of air. In adults, a piece of food often is the culprit. Young children often swallow small objects. Because choking cuts off oxygen to the brain, give first aid as quickly as possible.
The universal sign for choking is hands clutched to the throat. If the person doesn’t give the signal, look for these indications:
- Inability to talk
- Difficulty breathing or noisy breathing
- Squeaky sounds when trying to breathe
- Cough, which may either be weak or forceful
- Skin, lips and nails turning blue or dusky
- Skin that is flushed, then turns pale or bluish in colour
- Loss of consciousness
- Give 5 back blows.Stand to the side and just behind a choking adult. For a child, kneel down behind. Place one arm across the person’s chest for support. Bend the person over at the waist so that the upper body is parallel with the ground. 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 (also known as the Heimlich manoeuvre).
- Alternate between 5 blows and 5 thrustsuntil the blockage is dislodged.
To perform abdominal thrusts (Heimlich manoeuvre) on someone else:
- Stand behind the person.Place one foot slightly in front of the other for balance. Wrap your arms around the waist. Tip the person forward slightly. If a child is choking, kneel down behind the child.
- Make a fist with one hand.Position it slightly above the person’s navel.
- Grasp the fist with the other hand.Press hard into the abdomen with a quick, upward thrust — as if trying to lift the person up.
- Perform between six and 10 abdominal thrustsuntil the blockage is dislodged.
If the person becomes unconscious, perform standard cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) with chest compressions and rescue breaths.
To perform abdominal thrusts (Heimlich manoeuvre) on yourself:
First, if you’re alone and choking, call your local emergency number immediately. Then, although you’ll be unable to effectively deliver back blows to yourself, you can still perform abdominal thrusts to dislodge the item.
- Place a fistslightly above your navel.
- Grasp your fistwith the other hand and bend over a hard surface — a countertop or chair will do.
- Shove your fistinward and upward.
- Position your hands a little bit higherthan with a normal Heimlich manoeuvre, at the base of the breastbone, just above the joining of the lowest ribs.
- Proceed as with the Heimlich manoeuvre,pressing hard into the chest, with a quick thrust.
- Repeatuntil the food or other blockage is dislodged. If the person becomes unconscious, follow the next steps.
- Lower the personon his or her back onto the floor, arms to the side.
- Clear the airway.If a blockage is visible at the back of the throat or high in the throat, reach a finger into the mouth and sweep out the cause of the blockage. Don’t try a finger sweep if you can’t see the object. Be careful not to push the food or object deeper into the airway, which can happen easily in young children.
- Begin CPRif the object remains lodged and the person doesn’t respond after you take the above measures. The chest compressions used in CPR may dislodge the object. Remember to recheck the mouth periodically.
- Assume a seated position and hold the infant face downon your forearm, which is resting on your thigh. Support the infant’s head and neck with your hand, and place the head lower than the trunk.
- Thump the infant gently but firmlyfive times on the middle of the back using the heel of your hand. The combination of gravity and the back blows should release the blocking object. Keep your fingers pointed up to avoid hitting the infant in the back of the head.
- Turn the infant face up on your forearm,resting on your thigh with the head lower than the trunk if the infant still isn’t breathing. Using two fingers placed at the centre of the infant’s breastbone, give five quick chest compressions. Press down about 1 1/2 inches, and let the chest rise again in between each compression.
- Repeat the back blows and chest thrustsif breathing doesn’t resume. Call for emergency medical help.
- Begin infant CPRif one of these techniques opens the airway but the infant doesn’t resume breathing.
To prepare yourself for these situations, learn the Heimlich manoeuvre and CPR in a certified first-aid training course.