Choking and the Heimlich Maneuver

Choking, which is caused by food or another foreign object becoming lodged in the throat, or airway, accounts for nearly 4,600 deaths each year. Choking prevents oxygen from getting to the lungs and the brain. Lack of oxygen to the brain for more than four minutes may result in brain damage or death. It is important for all persons to recognize and know how to handle choking both in the home and in restaurants and other public places. The Heimlich maneuver, an emergency procedure used to treat choking victims, is responsible for saving thousands of lives each year.

How can choking be prevented?

In adults, choking can often be prevented if the following precautionary measures are taken:

  • Cut food into small pieces.
  • Chew food slowly and thoroughly, especially if wearing dentures.
  • Avoid laughing and talking while chewing and swallowing.
  • Avoid excessive intake of alcohol before and during meals.

In infants and children, choking can be often be prevented if the following precautionary measures are taken:

  • Keep marbles, beads, thumbtacks, latex balloons, coins, and other small toys and objects out of reach, particularly in children younger than 3 years old.
  • Prevent children from walking, running, or playing when they have food and toys in their mouth.
  • Youngsters under the age of 4 should not be fed foods that can easily become lodged in the throat such as hot dogs, nuts, chunks of meat or cheese, grapes, hard or sticky candy, popcorn, chunks of peanut butter, or raw carrots.
  • Supervise mealtimes with young children.
  • Prevent older siblings from giving a dangerous food or toy to a young child.

What is the recommended first-aid technique for choking?

The Heimlich maneuver, a series of under-the-diaphragm abdominal thrusts, is recommended for a person who is choking on a piece of food or a foreign object. The Heimlich maneuver is the only method for clearing a blocked airway currently recommended for adults by the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross.

What is the Heimlich maneuver?

The Heimlich maneuver lifts the diaphragm and forces enough air from the lungs to create an artificial cough. This cough is intended to move air through the windpipe, pushing and expelling the obstruction out of the throat and mouth.

Although the Heimlich maneuver is simple and effective, it can be painful and even cause injury to the victim. It should be used only in actual emergencies, when it is fairly certain that the person is actually choking.

Note: In infants and small children, a different technique of the Heimlich maneuver is recommended. Discuss the proper first-aid choking technique for your child with his/her physician.

How can I learn the proper technique for administering the Heimlich maneuver?

The Heimlich maneuver is simple to learn and is often taught during first-aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) classes. Contact your local chapter of the American Red Cross or American Heart Association or contact your local hospital or healthcare facility for a class schedule and more information.



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