Just about all of us have experienced the desperate sensation of choking. While you're eating and chatting a piece of food suddenly gets stuck in your windpipe, and you're gasping for breath.
Usually a slap on the back (common but not actually recommended) will dislodge it but sometimes this doesn't work.
If the victim can't breathe you need to act quickly because the brain can't do without oxygen for long.
With the help of one of three variations of the well-known Heimlich manoeuvre (including an adaptation so you can apply it to yourself), many thousands of people have been saved from choking to death.
You may never need it but it's good to be prepared.
Heimlich to save another person
1.Stand behind the person who's choking and place one of your feet between his.
2. Make a fist with your strongest hand.
3. Place your fist against his stomach just above the navel. Your thumb should rest just beneath the lowest point of his breastbone.
4. Cover your fist with the other hand to help hold it in position.
Thrust upwards beneath the breastbone with five short, fast movements of your fist.
6. If the airway obstruction does not dislodge, then repeat the action.
Don't try to remove the obstruction, unless you can see it clearly and reach it easily.
Heimlich to save yourself
1. Place your fist just under the lowest point of your breastbone.
2. Cover the fist with your other hand.
3. Lean over the back of a chair (or similar) so that your fist rests on the edge of the chair back.
4. Press down, or "fall" with your full weight as hard as you can, pushing your fist inwards and upwards.
5. Repeat the movement rapidly.
Heimlich to save a baby (under one year old)
1. Hold the baby face down on your forearm.
2. Rest your arm on your thigh and support her chin with your hand.
3. Her head and neck should be lower than her body.
4. Use the palm of your other hand to give five quick slaps (not too hard) between her shoulderblades.
If the above is not effective:
1. Turn the baby over so that she is facing you.
2. Her head and neck should be lower than her body.
3. Place two fingers in the centre of her breastbone, about one finger-width lower than the nipple line, and give five rapid downward thrusts on the chest.
Call for emergency medical help if the baby is still not breathing.
Material adapted from a feature originally appearing in YOU Pulse; Spring, September 2007
- Health24, March 2009