How to Save Someone Who’s Choking

Oh no, someone’s choking! They have something stuck in their throat and they can’t get it out by themselves. Maybe they overate? Maybe they swallowed something they shouldn’t have? It doesn’t matter right now, if nothing is done, they could die!

Ok, ok, calm down. This is a person who needs your help, this is your chance to be a hero, even. You could save a life! You might sort of remember a scenario like this happening on TV in some sitcom or another. They just sort of squeeze the choking person’s stomach a bunch of times until the person spits out whatever it was that was stuck in there in the first place.

What you’re thinking of is the Heimlich Maneuver, and here’s when, and how, to do it.

Make Sure They’re Choking

This might sound a little obvious, but, you should only do the Heimlich Maneuver if a person is actually choking. A person may have something stuck in their throat that they can dislodge themselves. Just like any life-saving procedure you can do, the Heimlich is pretty rough on the body. Here are some signs a person needs to have the Heimlich.

  • Putting their hands around their throat, pointing to their throat, or otherwise gesturing to you that they are choking.
  • Change in skin color to blue or red-ish tints.
  • Violent coughing or gagging
  • High pitched or obstructed noises of air trying to escape
  • Inability to speak, cough, breathe, or gag
  • Passing out

The Heimlich Maneuver

There are different ways to do the Heimlich Maneuver depending on the condition of the person choking. Here we’ll go through a few different likely scenarios. Performing the Heimlich on a conscious person, an unconscious person, a baby, and on yourself.

On a Conscious Person

  1. Let the person know you’re going to be performing the Heimlich Maneuver. The last thing you want is for the choking person to have an additional panic when you suddenly grab them from behind.
  2. Grab them from behind, or, more specifically, make a fist with one hand and wrap the other hand around the fist. Place them both at the center of the person’s waist (or narrowest part of the abdomen) and tip the person’s body forward slightly. It’s also recommended you widen you stance to keep your balance.
  3. Squeeze the person, pushing your hands up and into them, like you’re trying to pick them up. Do this five times in quick succession. This compresses air behind the blockage in an attempt to use the pressure to dislodge the blockage. If this does not work the first time, do another five compressions until the blockage is cleared.

On an Unconscious Person (or someone you can’t get your arms around)

  1. Get the person lying down on the floor, belly up.
  2. Get on your knees and straddle their hips. I know this sounds awkward, but come on, you’re saving lives, here.
  3. Place your hands, one on top of the other, onto the narrowest part of the abdomen, above the navel and below the ribcage. Put both hands palm-down.
  4. Push down and towards the head with not just your arms, but the rest of your bodyweight, too. Do five quick compressions, wait a moment, then do five more. Keep going until the blockage is dislodged.

On an infant or small child

  1. Hold the baby in your lap face down, with their head tilted slightly downward. You can also put the baby on a firm surface, face down, with their head to the side, but gravity works more the first way.
  2. Strike the baby between the shoulder blades with the heel of your hand. Please do not hit the baby too hard! Gravity will do a lot of the work, and hitting a baby too hard can cause further damage. Be firm, not harsh.
  3. Turn the baby around so they’re now face up. Check to see if anything has been dislodged.
  4. If nothing has been dislodged, or your baby still isn’t breathing, support your baby’s head with one hand, holding it a little bit lower than their feet.
  5. Press two or three fingers vertically on the baby’s breastbone with the topmost finger just below the nipple line. Give five thrusts, then pause for a moment, then give five more. Keep your fingers on the baby at all times. When the blockage becomes dislodged, you can stop.

On yourself

Hopefully this doesn’t happen, and you have someone around to help you out so you don’t have to worry about doing the Heimlich while you’re choking. But, just in case that does happen, here’s how:

  1. Make a firm fist with the hand of your choice. Right or left doesn’t matter.
  2. Put the thumb side of your fist up against your abdomen at about your waist line, then wrap your non-fist hand around the fist for some extra force.
  3. Press your hands into your abdomen quickly and forcefully in an inward and upward thrust. Do these thrusts in groups of five, and keep going until the blockage is dislodged.
  4. Go see a doctor, even though you saved yourself from choking, something may have been damaged in the process. It’s a good idea to go get checked out ASAP.

Seriously, Call a Doctor

For all of these scenarios, you’re going to want to call a doctor. If the Heimlich Maneuver doesn’t work after the first or second series of compressions, call 911. If the Heimlich does work, you want to get the choking victim checked out, anyways. There may some damage done by the blockage or by the maneuver itself.

Stay safe, my friends, and I hope you have an awesome day!