Will you know what to do if someone is choking? In this blog, we’ll discuss more on airway obstruction, including signs and symptoms of choking.
What is Choking
Choking refers to a condition where there is a blockage of the upper airway, preventing a person from breathing normally. It can occur when an object gets stuck in your trachea or windpipe. You can also get it when a foreign object gets stuck in the esophagus (food pipe). Choking can cause a simple coughing fit, but a full blockage can lead to death.
According to stats, more than 80 people die in Australia every year due to choking. In fact, it is the second-largest cause of death in older people. In total, an estimate of 11 million Australians is at risk of airway obstruction due to old age or a certain condition.
Breathing is an essential part of living. When we exhale, we breathe in gases such as oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and more. Without normal breathing, the supply of these gases will be cut off and can cause several organ failures.
Choking is a true medical emergency that requires immediate and effective action from a nearby first aider. In most cases, emergency services may not arrive in time to save a person’s life.
Signs and Symptoms of Choking
The signs and symptoms may vary depending on the severity of the obstruction and its causes. Here are the common signs of choking to observe.
- Coughing or gagging
- Panic and use of hand signals for help
- Inability to breathe, make noise, or make any sound at all
- Turning bluish around the lips, face, and nails (due to a lack of oxygen)
- Clutching the throat
- For infants: choking signs may exhibit in weak crying or coughing
If airway obstruction occurs, first aid treatment is necessary to remove the obstruction.
Causes of Choking
Children ages 3 and below are at higher risk of choking as they begin to explore their environment by putting objects onto their mouths. The most common causes in small children are food, balls, marble, coins, toys, and balloons. These are all associated with high death rates because of their potential to block an airway.
Common food choices that also lead to airway blockage include hard candy, nuts, seeds, grapes, peanut butter, chewing gum, hot dogs, and sausages. The airway obstruction is often partial but can be full, which is dangerous.
First Aid for Choking
All forms of choking are serious, but they are at different levels and require different emergency treatment.
For Mild choking
Mild choking or partial blockage occurs when the person can still speak and trying to cough. You may still hear a wheezing or gagging sound in mild choking.
For treatment, encourage the person to cough hard in an attempt to clear the blockage. You may also opt to do back blows with the heel of your hand to loosen the object.
For Severe Choking
Severe choking or full airway blockage is a medical emergency that can lead to death. In this case, do the Heimlich Maneuver to save the victim.
The Heimlich Maneuver, also known as abdominal thrust, is given to a person who is unable to breathe, speak, or cough. Here are steps to follow:
- Bend the person in a forward position and give up to five back blows.
- If the blockage is still there, give up to five abdominal thrusts. Hold the person around the waist and pull inwards and upwards, just above the belly button.
- If the person is still choking, call triple zero (000).
- Continue doing the cycle until help arrives, the person loses consciousness, or until the object comes out.
The most important thing to remember in a choking emergency is to seek help. Ask someone to call emergency services or do it yourself. If no one is around, try yelling for help during breaks. Continue giving assistance until professional help is ready to take over.
Thousands of people die every year from airway obstruction and lack of first aid given during the emergency. The more people know Heimlich Maneuver and other life-saving assistance, the better the chance of survival.
For full training on choking, CPR, and other medical emergencies, be sure to check our First Aid courses.