Updates from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and Hospital Foundation
Recently a friend had a very serious choking incident. Luckily, everything turned out okay, but it is a reminder that when one is choking, emergency personnel aren’t immediately available so knowing what to do is important.
Choking occurs when a foreign object lodges in the throat or windpipe blocking the flow of air. In adults, choking is generally the result of food going down the esophagus and or trachea, which share an opening at the back of the throat. The epiglottis is a small flap of cartilage that covers the opening of the trachea when you eat. When you swallow your body knows what to do and closes the trachea.
If the epiglottis doesn’t close fast enough, food can slip down the trachea. Taking small bites and chewing thoroughly before swallowing helps ensure food goes down the correct pipe. Sometimes the problem can be fixed by coughing up the blockage if food gets into the trachea. If the object is lodged further down the trachea, it blocks airflow to the lungs. If someone is truly choking, they won’t be able to breathe or talk and their face may turn red. If the brain goes too long without oxygen, damage or even death can occur. In these cases, immediate action must be taken. The universal sign of choking is hands clutched at the throat.
Surprisingly, the best method to manage choking was created fairly recently. In 1972, thoracic surgeon Dr. Henry Heimlich introduced the Heimlich maneuver. He conceptualized using air compressed in the lungs could help expel whatever was blocking the windpipe. Dr. Heimlich found by compressing the abdomen with an upward thrust, he could successfully clear a blockage in the windpipe.
The American Red Cross recommends a five to five approach which starts with five back blows. Stand to one side and behind the choking adult. For a child, kneel down behind. Place your arm across the person’s chest for support. Bend the person over at the waist so the upper body is parallel with the ground. Deliver five separate back blows between the person’s shoulder blades with the heel of your hand.
Next, give five abdominal thrusts. This is the Heimlich maneuver. The Red Cross recommends alternating between five blows and five thrusts until the blockage is dislodged. Both approaches are acceptable on their own if you are not confidant performing one or the other.
To perform the Heimlich maneuver stand behind the adult and place one foot slightly in front of the other for balance. Wrap your arms around the waist and tip the person forward slightly. Make a fist with one hand positioning it slightly above the person’s navel. Grasp the fist with the other hand. Press hard into the abdomen with a quick, upward thrust — as if trying to lift the person up. Perform between six and 10 abdominal thrusts until the blockage is dislodged.
It is important to learn how to correctly perform the Heimlich so it can be performed effectively and without harm.
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