What to Do If Someone Is Choking

ProTrainings What to Do If Someone Is Choking

Choking is a traumatic experience that can claim a life very quickly. Sometimes, if someone is choking, another person’s intervention is needed to clear their airway and save their life. 

Most common in children and the elderly, choking can happen suddenly and silently, and brain damage can occur within minutes. Thousands of deaths in the US each year are caused by choking, and it is one of the leading causes of death in infants. 

Knowing how to respond if someone is choking means you are equipped to act fast and help the person remove the obstruction. Let ProTrainings guide you on how to assist when choking happens to someone around you.

How Choking Damages the Body

Choking is the term used to describe a blockage in the airway. This may be a partial or total obstruction. When a person chokes, their body’s vital organs are deprived of oxygen. Without this oxygen, permanent brain damage can happen in minutes.

Just as when someone suffers cardiac arrest, the chances of a person surviving choking diminish quickly as the minutes pass by. This is why it’s important to know what to do and how to act.

The Universal Sign for Choking

When someone is choking, they will not be able to speak and will likely be panicking. It’s important to know the universal sign for choking as it’s the one key communicator that a person has an obstruction to their airway.

The universal sign for choking is grabbing the throat with both hands.

This sign surpasses language barriers and is quick, clear, and effective. If you can recognize the universal distress sign for choking, you will be much more likely to act to clear the obstruction.

According to MedlinePlus, the two things to ask the person when they are displaying the universal sign for choking are: 

  1. “Are you choking?”
  2. “Can you speak?” 

If they can speak and are coughing, do not perform a CPR rescue attempt, but call emergency services. This is because a forceful cough may be enough to clear the blockage. If they are unable to speak or cough, this is when it’s necessary to attempt to remove the blockage immediately.

If someone is not giving the universal sign, there could be other indicators they are choking. These include being unable to speak, having difficulty breathing, being unable to cough forcefully, their skin lips and nails turning blue, or loss of consciousness.

What to Do If an Adult Is Choking

Advice issued by the American Heart Association (AHA) indicates that the abdominal thrust method – more commonly known as the Heimlich maneuver – is the best way to aid a person who has a blockage in their throat or airway.

The AHA guidelines on performing the Heimlich maneuver are as follows:

  1. Ask a person “Are you choking?” and if they indicate yes, tell them you are going to help. 
  2. Stand behind the person and wrap your arms around their waist so your hands are at the front of their body.
  3. Make a fist with one hand and place your thumb against the person’s abdomen, just above the belly button. 
  4. Grasp your fist with your other hand and quickly thrust upwards into the person’s abdomen. 
  5. Continue until the object dislodges and the person can breathe.

Just like performing CPR on a cardiac arrest patient, it is important to get the abdominal thrust method correct to increase chances of clearing the blockage. 

What to Do If a Child Under One Is Choking 

Choking is every parent’s worst nightmare, and it can happen very quickly. When an infant chokes, it’s usually due to the child putting a foreign object in their mouth – and we all know how much kids like to do that!

The steps to take vary depending on whether the victim is a child or an adult. The Heimlich maneuver is not to be used on a choking baby or child under a year old per AHA recommendation.

If a child under one is choking, the AHA recommends the following steps:

  1. Kneel or sit with the infant in your lap. Lay them face down on your forearm across your lap or thigh. Support their head or neck by gently placing one hand under their chin.
  2. The baby’s head should be facing down, lower than their body.
  3. Provide five back slaps between the shoulder blades using the heel of your hand.
  4. If this works to dislodge the object, you can stop, if not it may help to give chest thrusts.
ProTrainings What to Do If Someone Is Choking

You can read more about giving chest thrusts to an infant and download an Infant Choking Reference Card on the AHA website.

Acting fast and knowing what to do gives the choking person the best chance of recovery. Brain damage or death can occur quickly when any obstruction stops oxygen from reaching the brain.

Using the Heimlich maneuver, understanding the universal sign for choking, and knowing the other warning signs means a person can receive aid as quickly as possible when they begin choking.
To learn more about first aid and CPR, browse our courses now to find the right one for you and your staff.