If you’ve ever had some food go down the wrong pipe, then you know that the sensation of choking is unpleasant and frightening. When food or another object blocks a person’s airway, the flow of oxygen to the lungs (and the rest of the body) is cut off. Without oxygen, brain damage can begin to take place within 4-6 minutes. Choking is a serious medical emergency.
Fortunately, we have an excellent rescue technique to resolve a blocked airway. It’s called the Heimlich Maneuver, and it’s a very effective life-saving skill that everyone should know. We find that most people are quite familiar with the Heimlich maneuver, but they don’t always know exactly how or when to perform it. Here’s what to do:
• If you suspect someone is choking, ask, “Are you choking? Can you speak?”
• If the person can speak or cough, don’t perform the Heimlich Maneuver
• If the person cannot speak or cough, then you can help
• Stand behind the person and circle your arms around his or her waist.Make a fist and place it just above the person’s belly button. Put your other hand on top of the fist.
• Pull your fist toward you quickly and forcefully – these are called abdominal thrusts
• Be persistent: sometimes it only takes 1 or 2 thrusts to clear the airway, but it may take more than that
• If it doesn’t work, and the person becomes unresponsive, call 911 and begin CPR
The HM works by using air that is trapped below the airway blockage. When you perform the thrusts with your fist, you force that air upward, which in turn pushes the object out of the airway, sometimes across the room! You can use this technique on all adults and children over the age of 1 (about walking age). For infants, we use back blows between the shoulder blade to clear a blockage – more on that next week.
One side note: The originator of this technique, Dr. Henry Heimlich, actually got the opportunity to use his rescue maneuver this past May when he saved the life of a woman at the retirement home where he lives. She was choking on a hamburger, and he calmly stepped in (at age 96) and literally performed the Heimlich maneuver. She’s doing fine and is quite grateful that she sat next to him at dinner. Providential…
It is estimated that about 100,000 lives have been saved using the Heimlich Maneuver since it was introduced in 1974. Even Dr. Heimlich at age 96 was prepared to take action. Please consider joining one of our classes that will prepare you to be the one that can step in and save a life. Register for a class today!