Treating choking in adults

Adult chokingOne situation you may encounter is dealing with someone who is choking. Choking can be classified into two main categories: mild choking and severe choking. Mild choking occurs when there is a blockage in the throat, but air can still pass through. The person may cough, breathe heavily, and be in considerable distress, but air can still flow. You will hear them making noise, coughing, and they might even be able to talk. A fishbone caught in the throat is an example of a mild obstruction. The procedure involves trying to calm the person down, encouraging them to cough, and hopefully, they will expel the object. If they don’t, it will be necessary to seek medical help and call emergency services, as you won’t be able to remove the obstruction yourself.

Severe airway obstructions involve a complete blockage in the throat. This could happen, for example, in a restaurant when someone swallows a large piece of steak while laughing or talking and eating simultaneously, causing an obstruction or rushed eating. If the steak becomes lodged in the throat, no air can pass. In this case, the person will not be able to cough and will be extremely distressed. They may pass out in a very short amount of time, just over a minute, and will need immediate help. To assist this person, approach them and obtain their consent. Asking, “Are you choking?” may seem strange, but it helps gauge their situation. If they say “yes,” they are not choking in the sense we will discuss next.

If they cannot answer, look for other signs, such as the universal sign of choking: hands to the throat. Upon asking, “Are you choking?”, they may not respond, or they might signal for you to come over. These are all concerns addressed within first aid. To gain consent and determine if they are choking, look for non-verbal signs, as they may not be able to speak. Perform two key procedures: five back slaps and five abdominal thrusts, then repeat as needed. When identifying signs of choking, observe the person’s face and body language, as they will likely be turning red, struggling to breathe, and visibly distressed.

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