Lifesaver tips: What to do when someone is choking?

Robie de Guzman

It’s the time of the year when family and friends gather to celebrate the holidays.

Reunions and parties abound where everybody can be merry and feast on arrays of scrumptious food.

But what if in the middle of dining and merry-making, you spotted a family member, a friend or someone else who is coughing or gagging, and clutching their throat after choking on a piece of food?

Choking is a blockage of the upper airway or throat, which prevents a person from breathing effectively. It can be caused by a piece of food or other foreign objects that got stuck in the upper airway.

It often occurs when food is not chewed properly or if person is talking or laughing while eating.

Choking is a medical emergency that can quickly result in death if not treated immediately.

How do you know if someone is choking?

According to UNTV’s Lifesaver program, a choking person may manifest the following behaviors:

  • Coughing or gagging
  • Wheezing
  • Sudden inability to talk
  • Making panicky hand signals
  • Clutching the throat
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Turning blue around the face, lips and fingernail beds

What should you do to help a choking person?

  • If the person is conscious, approach them and ask if they are choking.
  • If the person is able to answer by speaking or making a sound, it is a partial airway obstruction. Stay with him or her and encourage the person to continue coughing until the obstruction is cleared.
  • If the person cannot answer by speaking and can only nod the head, it means they have a complete airway obstruction and needs help. Help them clear the airway obstruction by performing an abdominal thrust.
  • To perform abdominal thrust, stand behind the choking person and do the tripod position by placing one foot slightly in front of the other for balance. Wrap your arms around the waist and tip the person slightly forward. If a child is choking, kneel down behind the child.
  • Make a fist with one hand and position it slightly above (around an inch) the choking person’s navel.
  • Grasp the fist with the other hand and then press hard in an inverted “J” motion or quick, upward thrust, as if you’re trying to lift the person in front.
  • Perform the abdominal thrust until the blockage is dislodged.
  • If you’re the only person with him or her, perform the abdominal thrust before calling your local emergency number for help. If another person is available, have them call for help while you perform first aid.
  • If the person becomes unconscious, lower him or her on his back onto the floor, or on an even and hard surface, with arms to the side.
  • Tilt upward the person’s head to open his or her mouth to check whether the foreign object has been cleared. If it is, remove the foreign object by reaching a finger into the mouth and sweep out the cause of choking. Do not do a finger sweep if the blockage is not visible as this may cause the food or object to push deeper into the airway.
  • Perform standard cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) with 30 chest compression if the object remains lodged and the person does not respond. Check the mouth periodically. Repeat the process until the patient regains consciousness or until emergency responders have arrived.

Check the Lifesaver episode below on how to perform a CPR:

  • If the person has regained his or her breathing, place him or her on a recovery position by folding the arm closest to you over their chest and place the other arm at a right angle to their body. Get the leg closest to you and bend the knee. While supporting the person’s head and neck, gently take the bent knee closest to you and roll the person away from you. Adjust the upper leg so both the hip and knee are bent at right angles. Tilt the head back to ensure the airways are clear and open. 

Remember these steps so you may be able to help in a situation involving a choking person.

Watch the episode of Lifesaver below for more information on performing first aid on a choking person:

Lifesaver airs every Sunday at 10:30am on UNTV, Your Public Service Channel.

For more details about Lifesaver, visit the following social media accounts:

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