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Choking: What can you do to help?

A brief summary on how to spot the signs of choking and how to provide life-saving care.

Choking can happen anywhere, anytime, and to anyone. Choking occurs when there is a foreign object stuck in the individual’s throat or windpipe, obstructing airflow. Most often, the cause will be a piece of food but in small children, they occasionally swallow small objects.

Due to the lack of airflow, choking can cut off oxygen to the brain. It is crucial for the affected person to get treatment as fast as possible. Fortunately, first aid is often enough to effectively dislodge the obstruction.

How can you tell if someone is choking?

It is universally understood that the sign for choking is when the person’s hands are clutching at their throat. If the person does not give that signal, there are other signs to look out for.

  1. Inability to talk
  2. Difficulty breathing or noisy breathing
    • Attempts at breathing result in squeaky sounds
  3. A forceful or weak cough
  4. The skin, lips, and nails start to turn blue or a grayish color
    • Skin elsewhere will be flushed before turning pale or blue
  5. Loss of consciousness

If the person is able to cough forcefully, you should encourage the person to keep on coughing. If they are unable to talk, laugh, or cry forcefully, the American Red Cross recommends the “five-and-five” approach.

What is the “five-and-five” approach?”

  • Give 5 back blows — Stand to the side of the choking individual (if it is a child, then kneel down). With one arm across the person’s chest for support, bend them down until the torso is parallel to the ground. Give 5 back blows between the shoulder blades with the heel of your hand.
      1. It is important to note that the American Heart Association does not teach the black blow method, so if you haven’t learned the technique, the Heimlich maneuver would be sufficient.
  • Give 5 abdominal thrusts —- These thrusts are also known as the Heimlich maneuver*
  • Alternate between back blows and abdominal thrusts —- repeat the process until object is dislodged.

How to perform the Heimlich maneuver:

  • Stand behind the person — With one foot slightly in front of the other, wrap your arms around their waist. The person should be slightly tipped forward.
      1. If the individual is a child, kneel behind them instead.
  • Make a fist — use one of your hands and make a fist. Position it slightly above the navel and use your other hand to grasp your fist. Apply pressure with your hand and press hard into the abdomen in a quick upward motion.
  • Perform between six and 10 abdominal thrusts — continue until the blockage is dislodged.

There are other factors to consider treating a person who is choking, such as pregnancy or if they lose consciousness. The Mayo Clinic gives a more detailed overview of what to do during a choking incident.

Whether you are choking or the person performing the life-saving procedures, we are there for you. With situations like choking, time is critical to recovery. That is why our licensed dispatchers and skilled EMTs, and paramedics are available 24/7. Call 9-1-1 and experience the fast and efficient care Med-Care EMS delivers all around the Rio Grande Valley and beyond.


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