Choking happens when the airway becomes blocked, usually during eating. This can be due to insufficient chewing, talking with the mouth full or even a child putting an object in their mouth.
Foods such as carrots, apples, grapes and nuts are particularly problematic and cutting these into smaller pieces and chewing them well can reduce risk of choking. Unfortunately, the elderly are most at risk as they can struggle with swallowing or have difficulty with dentures. Living alone increases the risk of death from choking further.
How do I know if someone is choking?
Ask if they are ok?
If they are suffering with mild choking, they will be able to answer you and will have the ability to cough.
If they are severely choking, they will be unable to cough, speak and breathe. They will look distressed and will become unconscious if left untreated.
How do I help someone who is choking?
Ask them to cough, this will indicate whether they need assistance or if they can clear the obstruction themselves.
If the cough is ineffective:
- Shout for help – Ask your helper to call 999/112 (Don’t interrupt treatment)
- Start giving back blows – lean the casualty forwards.
- Give 5 sharp blows with the heel of your hand in between their shoulder blades. Check to see if the blockage is cleared after each blow. If you relieve the choking discontinue the treatment.
If the blows were ineffective:
- Start giving abdominal thrusts – Stand behind the casualty, put your arms around them.
- Make a fist with one hand and place just below the rib cage a little above the belly button.
- Hold your other hand around the fist and pull sharply inwards and upwards. Do this up to 5 times or until the choking is relieved.
Repeat the blows and thrusts as necessary. Be mindful that the casualty could become unconscious at any point. If they do, start CPR.
If you were able to successfully dislodge the obstruction, it is important that the casualty receives medical attention if they have received abdominal thrusts, having problems swallowing, has a persistent cough or feels like they have something stuck in their throat.