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Choking - A simple guide to help you save a life

In an emergency situation would you know what to do?

Imagine you're having a lovely romantic meal with your partner and suddenly they start choking, what would you do? There are simple and effective techniques to deal with this situation, however they are not common knowledge. Learning these techniques could actually save the life of a loved one. So surely it's worth everybody's time to master them.

Choking occurs when an individual's airway becomes blocked preventing them from breathing properly - it usually happens when eating. It is very easy for anyone; baby, child or adult to accidentally breathe in rather than swallow an item of food. The problem differs in severity depending on the size of the blockage. An airway can either become partly or fully blocked - a fully blocked airway is a very serious problem.

Mild choking

This occurs when whatever the individual is choking on is only partially blocking their airway. You will know if this is the case as the person will be able to speak, cry and cough. In mild cases individuals will usually be able to clear the blockage themselves.

To help someone struggling you should instruct them to keep coughing as this will help them to clear the blockage. Tell them to try and spit out whatever is causing them a problem. Never try to put your fingers into someone's mouth, as this could push whatever the problem is further down and possibly create more of a problem.

If the coughing doesn't dislodge the problem move onto the treatment for severe choking.


Severe choking - Children over 1 year old and adults

This can be the difference between life and death, so you need to notice the signs and act fast! Someone struggling with sever choking will generally be clutching at their chest or neck. They won't be able to speak, breathe or cough so they can only use their body to communicate the problem. Without help they will eventually become unconscious, so what should you do?

Firstly, you should shout for help as an ambulance may be needed if it escalates. Standing behind/slightly to one side of the person, support their chest with one hand and lean them forwards. This will make sure that the object blocking their airway will exit through their mouth, rather than moving further down.

Now give them 5 firm sharp blows between their shoulder blades with the heel of your hand (the strong part between your wrist and your palm). Has this cleared the blockage?

If not stand directly behind the person and place your arms around their waist. Make a fist with one of your hands and grasp it with your other. Now place this between the belly button and the bottom of their breast bone.

Make sure there is no gap between you and the individual as this will weaken the technique - as you will be using some of the thrust pulling them towards you. To perform the abdominal thrust, pull sharply inwards and upwards. Do this 5 times, or until the choking has been relieved.

If the obstruction has not been cleared after 5 abdominal thrusts, ask the help you called to ring for an ambulance. Then go back to the back blows and continue the cycle until you have dislodged the object, an ambulance arrives or the person becomes unresponsive (then CPR will be necessary).

What if a baby is choking?

Babies are more inclined to choke, they can even choke on curdled milk or mucus. They are also prone to putting almost anything in their mouths, which could get stuck in their airway.

If a baby does choke, the process is similar to that of an adult but obviously the techniques are different.

With a mild choke you'll notice this as they will make choking and distress noises. They may attempt to cough it out themselves and this will clear the obstruction. However, if the blockage is severe, they won't be able to breathe and so can't cough or cry, which makes it harder to notice. This is when you need to step in.

The first step is to perform 5 back blows, obviously due to a babies size and frame the technique needs to be altered. Hold the baby face down along your thigh, with its head at the lowest point. Supporting the head with one hand, use the other to hit them firmly on their back between their shoulder blades. Hopefully the blows should relieve the choking, if not, move onto chest thrusts.

Keeping in the same position, turn the baby over onto its back so that you are holding them and supporting their head with one arm as they rest on your thigh. Place 2 fingers in the middle of their chest just below the nipples, then push sharply downwards - again try this 5 times.

If after 5 chest thrusts you have not dislodged the problem call for an ambulance, go back to the back blows and continue the cycle until the object has dislodged, the ambulance arrives or the baby becomes unconscious (CPR will then be necessary).

For more information on choking, please visit the Millie's Trust and British Red Cross.


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