Choking is one of the leading causes of accidental death in the United States. People of all ages can experience choking, but the most susceptible to death by choking are small children under the age of 5 and older adults. If administered quickly enough, CPR is an effective way to eliminate the choking hazard and possibly save a life.
Here are four of the most common signs of serious choking to look for before administering CPR:
Coughing caused by choking is different than a cough from a cold or flu. If something is blocking a person’s airway, the body’s natural response is to get rid of the object by coughing it out. According to Healthline, if you notice someone presenting uncontrollable coughing, check for additional symptoms such as bluish skin, loss of consciousness, the inability to speak or cry, wheezing, a weak cough, and panic. All of these may indicate a severe choking situation that needs immediate attention.
Struggling to Breathe
It is important to keep in mind that choking does not always cause a cough. Sometimes the object in the airway may be too large, making it impossible to cough. Or, if the person’s breathing is severely compromised, they may drift in and out of consciousness and be unable to cough at all. The Heimlich maneuver, also known as abdominal thrusts, is especially helpful for clearing the airway at this stage. To successfully perform the Heimlich maneuver, stand behind the choking person, and wrap your arms around their waist. Then, make a fist with one hand over the person’s belly button, grasp the fist with your other hand, and give quick bursts of 6-10 abdominal thrusts to attempt to dislodge the object.
Grasping the throat is an indication of choking when the person is unable to speak. Alongside the other choking signs, it is safe to assume that the person is choking and needs immediate help. Failure to call an ambulance or administer back blows (five firm strikes between the shoulder blades while supporting the person’s chest) may result in loss of consciousness.
Depending on how long the person has been choking, they may experience loss of consciousness and pass out. If the person is unresponsive, place them on their back and tilt their head back to raise their chin and open their airway. Check inside their mouth to see if there is a visible object that is blocking their airway, but never reach inside their throat to try and remove anything yourself unless it is clearly inside the mouth, not the throat. Call for help and administer chest compressions to stabilize the person while you wait.
Performing the Heimlich maneuver and properly administering CPR can save a person experiencing choking symptoms. No matter your work or lifestyle, it is always beneficial to be prepared for choking situations so that you can be of assistance to someone in need and potentially save a life.