Choking: How To Stop It And Save Lives

chohtsIn November 1994, Christina Swick, 18, was on the school bus, headed home. As usual, the bus was filled with laughter and shouting. Then, someone in the back yelled out, “Hey, Charlie’s choking!”

At first, Christina and the other students from John S. Battle High School in Mendota, Virginia, didn’t react. Charlie Carroll often sounds like he’s choking, even when he isn’t. He has Wilson’s disease, a neurological impairment due to excessive copper in the liver and brain. He can’t talk or control his muscles.

But then the same person yelled, “Something’s really wrong with Charlie! He was eating a sucker and now it’s gone! He’s slumped over!”

Christina sprang into action. She knew from a nursing course she had taken at Washington County Technical School that she had to act fast. Christina pulled Charlie up and turned him around. Then she gave him the Heimlich maneuver–a quick press under the ribs. The pressing pushes air in the lungs up the trachea and forces the obstruction out. A lollipop popped out of Charlie’s mouth!

“I just did what anyone would have done,” says Christina. But Charlie would have choked to death because the lollipop had blocked his air supply. Christina received a Certificate of Merit from the American Red Cross, awards from her school and the town, and was interviewed by several newspapers in her area. She was a hero, especially to Charlie.

Choking Is Life-Threatening

Choking can occur while people are sitting together enjoying a meal or when they are eating alone. Three thousand people died from choking in 1994, according to the National Safety Council.

If someone appears to be choking, follow these steps:

* Don’t Slap on the Back Doctors used to think that a slap on the back would dislodge the object a,aerson was choking on. People still do back slaps, even though this has been found ineffective. In fact, slapping a choking person on the back can cause the object to slide farther down the throat and even into the lungs. So, NEVER slap a choking person on the back.

* Take Immediate Action. It’s most important for everyone to realize that choking is a life-threatening emergency and requires immediate action. This is not the time to worry about etiquette. Don’t let the person in trouble leave the room embarrassment. Many people who die from choking made the mistake of going to the rest room to suffer in private.

Ask the victim if he or she is choking. If the person can’t answer, the obstruction is life-threatening. Call 911 or another emergency service.

* If the person is choking but also can cough or make sounds don’t intervene–yet. This indicates a partial obstruction. He or she can still breathe and will most likely be able to cough up the object. However, if the object does not come up in a minute, then call for emergency help.

* If the person can’t make a sound, this means the throat and airway are totally blocked. Without oxygen, brain damage occurs and the person can die in three to four minutes. Immediate first aid action must be taken. (See “The Heimlich Maneuver” at right.)

How to Prevent Choking

Choking can be prevented if you know what to do.

1. Practice safe eating habits: Take small bites; chew slowly and thoroughly. Swallow before taking another bite.

2. If something is too chewy or large to swallow, spit it out rather than attempting to swallow it. Be aware that meat and bagels are common causes of choking in adults.

3. Avoid laughing or talking when eating. Don’t inhale through the mouth while chewing.

4. Review the list of foods that cause choking in children. Never offer food to young children without parent’s permission. Always closely supervise young children when they are eating, and never let them run or play while eating.

5. Always sit down while eating ; never at Iying down.

The lifesaving Heimlich maneuver is now recognized by all medical and health organizations as the approved way to aid a choking victim. The life you save by doing the Heimlich maneuver could be that of a friend, loved one, or even your own.

For best results, take a first aid Cross given by the American Red Cross.

RELATED ARTICLE: The Heimlich Maneuver

Stand behind the person. wrap your arms around his or her waist. Make a fist with: one hand and place thumb side against the abdomen above the navel but below the ribs. Grab your fist with he other hand and give quick, upward thrusts into the abdomen. Repeat until the object is expelled or the victim loses consciousness. lf it doesn’t come Out quickly, have someone call an ambulance.

You can even perform the maneuver on yourself if you are alone and choking. Place first, thumb side against your abdomen, just below your rib cage, and cover it with your other hand. Push up and in with a quick motion. or, you can lean over a chair back or railing and press your abdomen over it with a quick thrust. Don’t lean on anything that could hurt you.

This procedure can be used on young children but not on infants under 1 year of age. Abdominal injury could result if the thrusts are toe strong.

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