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Learn How to Help a Choking Victim

by Beth Hering
The Challenge

Choking kills more than 3,000 people each year, according to the American Red Cross. If you were at your local diner or at a picnic in a park, would you be able to recognize the signs of someone choking? If you noticed, would you know what to do next?

Time is critical for a choking victim. Without oxygen, the brain begins to die within 4-6 minutes. Imagine the horror of watching a co-worker choke to death before your eyes in the employee cafeteria simply because nobody around knew what to do to help her.

The good news is that virtually anyone can learn how to help a choking victim. By knowing what to do now, you can step in during an emergency situation and perform a lifesaving act of kindness.

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Recognize the warning signs of obstruction in the throat or windpipe:

  • an inability to talk
  • troubled or noisy breathing
  • the inability to cough forcefully
  • making the universal "choking sign"
  • lips, skin and nails turning blue or a grayish color
  • panic
  • loss of consciousness

Respond immediately. According to the National Institutes of Health, the first thing you should do is ask the person if he is choking. If he can verbally respond or is coughing forcefully, leave him alone but stay near. If he cannot respond or shakes his head that he is indeed choking, take action. Choking victims usually cannot wait for professional help, though 911 should be called.

According to the most recent guidelines of the American Red Cross, aid a conscious choking victim by utilizing a series of five back blows and five abdominal thrusts (popularly called the Heimlich maneuver). The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide offers written and visual instructions on how to perform abdominal thrusts on an adult, a child, or an infant. Repeat the procedure several times, if necessary, to clear the throat obstruction.

Be observant when out in public. If you see someone choking, remain calm but respond quickly. If you have help, tell that person to call 911.

Teach your children how to recognize the warning signs of choking, how to aid a choking victim, and how to dial 911. The more people who are ready to respond to an emergency the better.

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