The second you notice a friend or family member is choking, it’s time to jump into action. Choking blocks the airway, which means the brain will soon stop getting oxygen.
Before you call 9-1-1 or launch into the Heimlich, make sure the person is actually choking. If the person is coughing and able to breathe, emergency services will not be necessary. Simply urge them to keep coughing until they can get that tortilla chip out of their airway.
However, if someone is unable to cough, talk, or breathe—or they are holding both hands to their neck, the universal gesture for choking—take action ASAP.
Here’s what to do if someone is choking, according to the American Red Cross.
Send someone to call 9-1-1. Because there is a risk that the person may lose consciousness, they may require additional emergency help, even if you do successfully help them stop choking.
Lean the person forward slightly and give five back blows. With the heel of your hand, pound forcefully between the person’s shoulder blades five separate times. Don’t think of these as five successive blows, but as five individual attempts to dislodge the object, with slight pauses in between.
If the person is still choking, give five abdominal thrusts. With one hand in a fist, position it so that the thumb side rests against the person’s abdomen, just above the belly button. Grab your fist with your other hand, and then thrust: pull upward quickly, five times. Again, each thrust is an individual attempt to dislodge the object.
Repeat the 5-and-5 method (alternating between five back blows and five abdominal thrusts) until the person can cough or breathe again.
If you are the only person with the person choking, perform the Heimlich before you call 9-1-1.
In the event that the person choking loses consciousness, give standard CPR with chest compressions and rescue breaths.
Choking: First Aid. Mayo Clinic; Rochester, MN, 2020 (Accessed on December 27, 2020)
Choking: First aid. Rochester, MN: Mayo Clinic, 2014. (Accessed on July 7, 2017 at http://www.mayoclinic.org/first-aid/first-aid-choking/basics/art-20056637.)
Conscious choking. Washington, DC: American Red Cross, 2017. (Accessed on July 7, 2017 at http://www.redcross.org/flash/brr/English-html/conscious-choking.asp.)
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