Choking is a common breathing emergency that accounts for more than 3,000 deaths each year. Would you be able to recognize a choking victim and know what to do?
Choking is often caused by food or other foreign bodies lodged in the throat, blocking the flow of air to the lungs. Typically, choking victims will instinctively grab their throat and may panic, wheeze or gasp for breath.
If a person can cough, speak and has normal skin color, there is a partial blockage of the airway that can most likely be resolved by coughing. It is important to encourage the person to continue coughing, which can help to dislodge the object causing the obstruction.
Even if you see a person coughing, it is important to know that a partial blockage of the airway can quickly turn into a complete blockage where no air is getting through at all. If the person cannot breathe, speak or cough, the windpipe is completely blocked and the person needs emergency help. A person whose airway is blocked can quickly stop breathing and lose consciousness so you must act quickly. If a bystander is available, have that person call EMS personnel while you begin to provide care.
When someone is choking but is still conscious, your goal is to reestablish an open airway as quickly as possible. A combination of five back blows and five abdominal thrusts provides an effective way to clear the airway obstruction.
To give back blows:
To give abdominal thrusts:
Repeat this combination until the object becomes dislodged or the victim becomes unconscious. If the person becomes unconscious or is unresponsive, they will need a modified CPR technique known as first aid for unconscious choking. Unconscious choking requires more in-depth care that involves rescue breathing, chest compressions and checking for a foreign object.
To learn more about caring for a conscious or unconscious choking victim and other life-threatening emergencies, enroll in an American Red Cross first aid and CPR course. Visit http://www.redcross.org/services/hss/courses/ for more information.