A  A  A   Print
Choking and the Heimlich ManeuverAtragantamiento y Maniobra de Heimlich

Choking and the Heimlich Maneuver

Choking is caused by food or another foreign object becoming lodged in the airway. Choking prevents oxygen from getting to the lungs and the brain. Lack of oxygen to the brain for more than four minutes may result in brain damage or death. It is important for all people to recognize and know how to handle choking both in the home and in restaurants and other public places. The Heimlich maneuver, an emergency procedure used to treat choking victims, is responsible for saving thousands of lives each year.

How can choking be prevented?

In adults, choking can often be prevented if the following precautionary measures are taken:

  • Cut food into small pieces.

  • Chew food slowly and thoroughly, especially if wearing dentures.

  • Avoid laughing and talking while chewing and swallowing.

  • Avoid excessive intake of alcohol before and during meals.

In infants and children, choking can be often be prevented if the following precautionary measures are taken:

  • Keep marbles, beads, thumbtacks, latex balloons, coins, and other small toys and objects out of reach, particularly in children younger than 4 years old.

  • Prevent children from walking, running, or playing when they have food and toys in their mouth.

  • Youngsters under the age of 4 should not be fed foods that can easily become lodged in the throat, such as hot dogs, nuts, chunks of meat or cheese, grapes, hard or sticky candy, popcorn, chunks of peanut butter, or raw carrots.

  • Supervise mealtimes with young children.

  • Prevent older siblings from giving a dangerous food or toy to a young child.

What is the recommended first-aid technique for choking?

The Heimlich maneuver, a series of under-the-diaphragm abdominal thrusts, is recommended for a person who is choking on a piece of food or a foreign object. According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, the Heimlich maneuver is used only when a person is choking due to something blocking the airway. Choking is when a person cannot speak, cough, or breathe. An airway obstruction can lead to a loss of consciousness and death. When applying the Heimlich maneuver, be careful not to use too much force so you don't damage the ribs or internal organs. The Heimlich maneuver is the only method for clearing a blocked airway currently recommended for adults by the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross.

What is the Heimlich maneuver?

The Heimlich maneuver lifts the diaphragm and forces enough air from the lungs to create an artificial cough. This cough is intended to move air through the windpipe, pushing, and expelling the obstruction out of the airway and mouth:

  • To employ the Heimlich maneuver, reach around the person's waist. Position one clenched fist above the navel and below the rib cage. Grasp your fist with your other hand. Pull the clenched fist sharply and directly backward and upward under the rib cage six to 10 times quickly.

  • In case of obesity or late pregnancy, give chest thrusts.

  • Continue uninterrupted until the obstruction is relieved or advanced life support is available. In either case, the person should be examined by a doctor as soon as possible. 

Although the Heimlich maneuver is simple and effective, it can be painful and even cause injury to the victim. It should be used only in actual emergencies, when it is fairly certain that the person is actually choking.

Note: In infants and small children, a different technique of the Heimlich maneuver is recommended. Discuss the proper first-aid choking technique for your child with his or her doctor.

How can I learn the proper technique for administering the Heimlich maneuver?

The Heimlich maneuver is simple to learn and is often taught during first-aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) classes. Contact your local chapter of the American Red Cross or American Heart Association or contact your local hospital or healthcare facility for a class schedule and more information.

 
Today's Interactive Tools
Related Items

The third-party content provided in the Health Library of phoebeputney.com is for informational purposes only and is not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease, or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your physician. If you or your child has or suspect you may have a health problem, please consult your primary care physician. If you or your child may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 or other emergency health care provider immediately in the United States or the appropriate health agency of your country. For more information regarding site usage, please visit: Privacy Information, Terms of Use or Disclaimer.

Follow us online:

© 2014 Phoebe Putney Health System  |  417 Third Avenue, Albany, Georgia 31701  |  Telephone 877.312.1167

Phoebe Putney Health System is a network of hospitals, family medicine clinics, rehab facilities, auxiliary services, and medical education training facilities. Founded in 1911,
Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital (the flagship hospital) is one of Georgia's largest comprehensive regional medical centers. From the beginning, Phoebe's mission and vision
has been to bring the finest medical talent and technology to the citizens of Southwest Georgia, and to serve all citizens of the community regardless of ability to pay.