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Helping someone who’s choking


Choking is regular hazard that can happen to anyone, anytime. Knowing what to do when it does happen can be a real lifesaver.


Generally, people tend to choke on food. But there can be other causes, especially among children. Swallowing things that shouldn’t be in their mouths in the first place is a common issue with children.


But whatever the person is choking on, the way of handling the problem is essentially the same.


If you see someone gasping for air, violently coughing, can’t speak or breathe, or they are holding their hands to their throat in extreme agitation or anxiety, you can be pretty sure they are choking.


The most immediate action if you can, is to try and dislodge what is in their throat. Using your fingers is the best option. (Don’t waste time with gloves if they are not handy – time is of the essence.)


If you can’t easily remove the item causing the choking, call 000 and get an ambulance on the way, while you move into the “Back Blow/Chest Thrust” Sequence that can help to dislodge the item.


For the Back Blow, lean the person over at the waist and with the heel of your palm (the large boney base of your thumb) quickly give the person 5 short, sharp blows in the middle of their back.


Check to see if this has dislodged the item and the person can now spit it out. If they can, you can stop this action.


But if the person is still struggling to remove the item from their throat, turn them around, stand them upright and again deliver 5 short, sharp blows with the heel of your hand but this time to the middle of their chest.


Again, check if this has dislodged the item. If not, return to the Back Blows. Keep alternating between the Back Blows and Chest Thrusts, doing 5 each time and turning the person around. To prevent your blows pushing them over, you may need to stand the person against a wall or let them rest their hand on a table or bench for the Back Blows.


If the person stops breathing and/or goes into cardiac arrest, start immediate CPR, even if they still have something lodged in their throat that you can’t remove.


For infants or babies, you can use the same basic Back Blow/Chest Thrust method, but you need to be more gentle and conscious of your strength so that you don’t harm the baby’s spine or ribs by hitting them too hard.


To do Back Blows on a baby or infant, lay them across your lap/thigh or along your outstretched arm, with their head angled downwards to allow gravity to assist with the item coming out. For Chest Thrusts simply turn them over.