Our life is just a breath away from death, literally.

As it was discussed elsewhere in this website, the ‘throat is like a busy highway intersection that works smoothly without an overpass’. However, accidents  do happen; and here it is called choking. And that is when first aid is required.

Breathing is obstructed when any object gets stuck in the throat or further inside the respiratory tract. This results in oxygen depletion in the brain; and death supervenes. It could be a matter of three to four minutes before a happy family occasion or a business event turns tragic just because a piece of meat or a popcorn got lodged in someone’s respiratory tract; and there was no one around who knew how to help.

Often times it may be too late when medical help arrives. Do we sit and watch until then? Ordinary lay people like us must be prepared to take control of such emergencies. The following is a tried and tested method, which you can put to use in such situations (source: multiple).

First-aid procedure

If you find the person unable to breathe or talk, and you have evidence to believe that he/she is choking, you must get into action right away. You may do two things in the following order:

Method 1. Give sharp blows with the heel of your hand on his/her back between the shoulder blades. Four of five blows at a time would do.

Method 2. If the object has not come out and the person still finds it difficult to breathe or talk, you must perform Heimlich’s manoeuvre (see below) four or five times as described below.

Repeat the above two methods alternatively until the object comes out or the person is able to breathe and talk otherwise, or professional help arrives.

Heimlich manoeuvre

AbdominalThrust_HeimlichManoeuvre HeimlichManoeuvre wiki attribution GIF resizedThis method, named after the inventor in 1974 has been known to have saved numerous lives from choking death. It involves inward and upward abdominal thrust until the object is ejected. It is to be performed by the rescuer standing behind the victim and using a clenched fist supported by the other hand to apply sudden pressure inward and upward above the navel button and below the bottom end of the sternum (central breast bone).

Such thrust compresses the air in the lungs and forces out the object lodged in the throat or trachea. The act would appear like embracing the victim from behind and lift him/her with a sudden jerk of the clenched fists above the belly button. It works often; and the success usually depends upon how accurately and boldly you make the move without being clumsy or trying to be too gentle or too nervous.

Caution: In case of pregnant or obese persons, the fist should be placed further up (but below the tip of the sternum, and avoid upward thrust (or lift).

Watch this video for applying Heimlich manoeuvre on infants and adults including pregnant ladies. For another highly informative YouTube video on this topic, you may click here. Visit WebMD for instructions on how to deal with choking in children. Do familiarize yourself with the local medical emergency telephone numbers.


Do not talk or laugh with food in your mouth. In addition to being a bad personal habittalking with food in the mouth may also cost your life by choking. That does not mean you mustn’t talk while eating, as some traditional homes insist upon their children. That would be like attending a funeral. Talking and laughing at the table are healthy habits. But not when food is in your mouth. You may have a truly brilliant thought you want to share right away. But hold on until you swallow what you already have in the mouth.

As for laughing, it is a bit tricky because it is involuntary. But teach yourself and your children to expect something hilarious when food is still in the mouth. Like anger, laughter, too, can be managed if you teach yourself to be prepared for it. Give your children this important advice and enforce it, too.

Keep an eye on your infants and toddlers. They are notorious for putting anything in the mouth and then get choked.

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Click below to visit other first-aid topics discussed in this website.

Burns   Drowning    Electric shock    Epilepsy fits    Fractures    Childbirth (First Aid)    Poisoning    Suicide intention    Unconscious  / Fainting   LPG cooking gas

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