Every year, many people die from choking on objects that block their airways and cause suffocation. Choking is, in fact, the fourth leading cause of unintentional death. However, there is a simple technique you can use to help expel a trapped object from someone else’s airway. You can even use a version of this technique on yourself.

What is the Heimlich maneuver?

The technique is called the Heimlich maneuver or abdominal thrusts . The abdominal thrusts lift the diaphragm and force the air out of the lungs . This causes the foreign object to be expelled from the airways. The Red Cross also recommends including five back strokes , although some institutes, such as the American Heart Association, do not teach this technique.

How to perform the Heimlich maneuver

The steps you need to take to perform the Heimlich maneuver depend on who you are helping:

  • Another person who is not pregnant or a baby (less than a year)
  • A pregnant woman or a baby
  • Yourself

Regardless of who performs the maneuver, that person should still get medical help afterward. This is to ensure that physical damage has not occurred to the throat and airways.

In someone other than a pregnant woman or a baby

Determine if you need to perform abdominal thrusts. If a person who appears to be choking is conscious and coughs, they may be able to dislodge the object on their own. To know if it is necessary to apply the Heimlich technique, quickly consider the following:

  • If you are not coughing
  • If you are unable to speak or breathe
  • If you are asking for help, typically clutching your throat with your hands

First, if there is a passerby, ask them to call 911 (or the local emergency number) for emergency help. If you are the only person present, begin first aid treatment:

Step by Step

  1. Get the person to stand up.
  2. Get behind the person.
  3. Lean the person forward and slap him or her back five times with the palm of your hand.
  4. Put your arms around his waist.
  5. Make a fist with one of your hands and place it just above the navel, with the side of the thumb towards the person’s body.
  6. Grab the fist of your hand with the other hand and push it in and up at the same time. Do five of these abdominal thrusts.
  7. Repeat until the object is expelled and the person can breathe or cough on their own.

Alternatively, if the person cannot stand, straddle their waist, facing their head. Push your fist in and up the same way you would if you were standing.

In a pregnant woman

In pregnant women, you should place your hand slightly higher on your torso, around the base of your breastbone. If that person is unconscious, place them on their back and try to clear the airway with your finger in a sweeping motion. If you can’t remove the lodged object, begin CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).

In an infant

If the person who is choking is less than 1 year old, you must follow other steps:

Step by Step:

  1. Sit down and hold the baby face down on your forearm, which should rest on your thigh.
  2. Give five light strokes with the palm of your hand on his back.
  3. If that doesn’t work, place the baby on his back and reclining on your forearm and thigh, so that his head is slightly down.
  4. Place two fingers in the center of your breastbone and perform five quick chest compressions.
  5. Repeat back and chest strokes until the object is expelled and the baby can breathe or cough on its own.

In yourself

If you are alone and drowning, follow these steps:

  1. Make a fist with your hand and place it just above your belly button, thumb inward.
  2. Grab the fist with your other hand and push it in and up at the same time. Do five of these abdominal thrusts.
  3. Repeat until the object is expelled and you can breathe or cough on your own.
  4. You can also push your upper abdomen against a hard edge such as the corner of a table or counter, or the back of a chair.

Share the information so more people can save someone else’s life or even their own life in times of panic.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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