Chances are you’ll see someone choking at some point in your life: choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional injury death, according to the National Safety Council.
You’ve been warned about the risk of choking since you were young, but would you really know what to do if someone around you was choking? If not, it’s crucial to learn, experts say. “When choking occurs, there is an obstruction in a person’s airway and inaction will unfortunately result in choking and asphyxiation,” Dr. Eric Adkins, an emergency physician at Wexner Medical Center in Washington, told Yahoo Life. Ohio State University.
It’s also essential to act quickly, Dr. Danelle Fisher, chief of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., told Yahoo Life. “Sometimes you have minutes or even seconds to restore those airways before permanent damage is done,” she says. “This is a frightening situation that requires an immediate response.”
Many organizations, including the Red Cross, offer classes on what to do if someone is choking. But if you don’t have time for a course or just know you’ll never make it, it’s important to have at least some basic knowledge of what to do in an emergency. . Here’s what the experts recommend.
First of all, who is most likely to choke?
“Choking can happen to anyone,” says Dr. Zeeshan Khan, associate professor at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, but added that children under 5 and older adults are most at risk. risk.
Children under 4, in particular, are more prone to choking “because they have smaller airways to begin with and aren’t used to handling different textures of food,” says Fisher. . They are also “impulsive about what they put in their mouths,” she adds.
In older adults, “swallowing function can change, making people more prone to choking,” says Adkins.
Common Causes of Choking
Choking can happen in a variety of situations, but experts say the main causes in children are food, coins, toys and balloons.
In adults, “the most common causes of choking almost always involve food,” says Khan. However, he adds, “older people may have problems chewing and swallowing which can lead to choking.”
What to do if a baby is choking
If someone else is around, Fisher recommends having them call 911 while you take action. And, if you’re alone, try to dislodge the food first. “Your first attempt will be more lifesaving than calling 911 first,” she says.
If a child is under a year old, you’ll want to hold them face down and kick them on the back, Fisher says. “That means taking the heel of your hand and aiming between the shoulder blades,” she says. This creates a strong vibration and pressure in the airways, which can usually dislodge the object, she says.
The British Red Cross specifically recommends that you give up to five blows to the back while holding the baby face down alongside your thigh, head lower than their buttocks and supporting their head. If back blows don’t help, turn the baby face up, place two fingers in the middle of their chest just below the nipples and push down hard up to five times. This pushes air out of the baby’s lungs and can help loosen the blockage, according to the British Red Cross.
What to do if a child is choking
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using the Heimlich maneuver on choking children. Again, have someone call 911 if available, while you take action. You can do this when the child is lying down, sitting or standing.
If they’re sitting or standing, stand behind them and wrap your arms around their waist, the AAP says. Place the thumb side of your fist in the middle of his abdomen, grab that fist with your free hand and press inward with quick upward thrusts. Repeat these pushes until the object is spat out or the child begins to breathe or cough.
If the child is unconscious, you will want to do what is called a tongue and jaw lift. To do this, the AAP says to open their mouth with your thumb held over their tongue and your fingers wrapped around the lower jaw (this pulls the tongue away from the back of the throat). You may be able to clear the airways this way. If you can see what’s causing the blockage, try removing it with a sideways swipe of your finger – be careful, as this could push the object even further.
If the child hasn’t started breathing again, gently tilt their head back and lift their chin, the AAP says. Then place your own mouth over his mouth, pinch his nose, and give two breaths lasting 1.5 to 2 seconds. Then return to the Heimlich maneuver. Keep repeating the steps until the child starts breathing again or help arrives.
What to do if an adult is choking
For adults, it’s important to ask first if they’re choking, says Adkins. If they indicate they are, you will take action similar to what you would for a child, according to the American Red Cross. Give them five blows to the back, followed by five abdominal thrusts, if the blows did not dislodge the object.
Keep repeating this cycle or call 911 if you cannot dislodge the object.
Once the choking episode resolves, it’s a good idea to see a doctor, Khan says. “There may be complications from the episode,” he says.
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