Don’t choke!

Take caution and know what to do if someone near you is choking.

I don’t think there’s anything scarier than seeing a loved one choking. When something “goes down the wrong pipe” and one sputters and coughs, it is scary enough, but when something is lodged in your windpipe and air cannot get through, this is an emergency.

Young children are at a high risk of choking, mostly on uncut foods (hot dogs and grapes are examples) and small objects. However, we are all at risk as both our food and the air we breathe go through our throat. Food goes to our stomach and air to our lungs. For example, while laughing while eating, food can slip down into the trachea (our windpipe) and block the passage of air into our lungs. Most times we can cough and loosen the piece of food to get it out. When it is stuck, there is a big problem.

If the brain goes without oxygen for more than four minutes, brain damage or even death can occur, so knowing some basic techniques of lifesaving in these situations is very important. Michigan State University Extension recommends you familiarize yourself with the following to be prepared for a choking emergency:

Back blows: This technique is simply hitting the person between the shoulder blades with the heel of your hand. Five blows are usually enough to remove the object. If the person is still choking, follow up with the Heimlich maneuver.

Heimlich maneuver : This technique is done on adults and children over one year old. First, go behind the choking person with your hands grasped together in a fist. Give a quick upward thrust to their abdomen. This can squeeze the lungs to send air up and out, expelling the food. Repeat up to five times. If the item hasn’t dislodged, do five back blows and repeat more abdominal thrusts.

If the item is not coming out, call 911, or have another call for you. If the person becomes unconscious, you will have to administer CPR.

If you are choking and there is no one around to help, the Heimlich maneuver can be done on yourself as well. If possible, call 911 first – they can hopefully trace the call and get emergency personnel there to help you. Place your fist above your naval and hold it with your other hand. Bend over a hard, secure surface like a countertop and shove your fist in and up. Continue to dislodge or do so until help arrives.

If an obese or pregnant person is choking, place your fist under the breastbone instead of their abdomen, but follow the same procedures as those listed above.

For an infant or child under 1-years-old, sit down and place them over your forearm, resting on your thigh. Thump five times on the middle of the back with the heel of your hand. If that doesn’t remove the choking hazard, turn the child face up on your forearm with the head lower than the stomach and do five quick thrusts with two fingers at the center of their breastbone. Repeat back blows and chest compressions, five and five, and call for help.

You never know when someone will choke. Learn the universal sign for choking – hands clutched to the throat – or look for these signs:

  • Inability to cough or talk
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lips turning blue
  • Unconsciousness

Get involved and keep your loved ones safe. Learn the Heimlich maneuver by taking a first aid class. You can become a lifesaver!

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