Choking first aid

Choking occurs when a foreign object becomes lodged in the throat or windpipe, blocking the flow of air. In adults, a piece of food often is the culprit. Young children often swallow small objects. Because choking cuts off oxygen to the brain, administer first aid as quickly as possible.
The universal sign for choking is hands clutched to the throat. If the person doesn’t give the signal, look for these indications:
  • Inability to talk
  • Difficulty breathing or noisy breathing
  • Inability to cough forcefully
  • Skin, lips and nails turning blue or dusky
  • Loss of consciousness: If choking is occurring, the Red Cross recommends a “five-and-five” approach to delivering first aid:
  • Give 5 back blows. First, deliver five back blows between the person’s shoulder blades with the heel of your hand.
  • Give 5 abdominal thrusts. Perform five abdominal thrusts (also known as the Heimlich maneuver).
  • Alternate between 5 blows and 5 thrusts until the blockage is dislodged.
  • The American Heart Association doesn’t teach the back blow technique, only the abdominal thrust procedures. It’s OK not to use back blows, if you haven’t learned the technique. Both approaches are acceptable.

To perform abdominal thrusts (Heimlich maneuver) on someone else:

  • Stand behind the person. Wrap your arms around the waist. Tip the person forward slightly.
  • Make a fist with one hand. Position it slightly above the person’s navel.
  • Grasp the fist with the other hand. Press hard into the abdomen with a quick, upward thrust — as if trying to lift the person up.
  • Perform a total of 5 abdominal thrusts, if needed. If the blockage still isn’t dislodged, repeat the five-and-five cycle.