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Each year, many people die from choking on objects that obstruct their airways and cause suffocation. Choking is in fact the fourth leading cause of unintentional death. However, there is a simple technique you can use to help expel a trapped object from another person’s airway. You can even use a version of this technique on yourself.
The technique is called the Heimlich maneuver, or abdominal thrusts. Abdominal thrusts lift your diaphragm and expel air from your lungs. This causes the foreign object to be expelled from your airway. The Red Cross also recommends including five back blows, although some institutes, such as the American Heart Association, don’t teach this technique.
The steps you need to perform a Heimlich maneuver depend on who you’re aiding:
Regardless of whom you perform the maneuver on, that person should still get medical help afterward. This is to ensure no physical damage has occurred to their throat and airways.
Determine whether you need to perform abdominal thrusts. If a person who appears to be choking is conscious and coughing, they may be able to dislodge the object on their own. Administer first aid if the person is:
First, if there’s a bystander, have them call 911 (or your local emergency phone number) for emergency help. If you’re the only person present, begin first aid treatment:
Alternatively, if the person can’t stand up, straddle their waist, facing their head. Push your fist inward and upward in the same manner as you would if they were standing.
On pregnant women, you need to place your hand a little higher on their torso, around the base of their breastbone. If that person is unconscious, place them on their back and try to clear the airway with your finger in a sweeping motion. If you can’t remove the lodged object, begin performing CPR.
If the person who is choking is younger than 1 year, you need to follow other steps:
If you’re alone and choking, follow these steps:
You can also thrust your upper abdomen against a hard edge like the corner of a table or counter, or back of a chair.
You may find these Heimlich maneuver training videos helpful to watch:
Written by: Brian Krans
Medically reviewed on: Dec 08, 2016: Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, MSN, RN, CRNA
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