I have been asked over the years, which is the best way to rescue an adult or a child that is choking. This has been the subject of many a discussions and controversies for decades. Should you raise their arms, should you hit them on the back, should you leave them alone, should you call 911, or should you perform the “Heimlich Maneuver”?
Several articles have been written about raising your arms in the air if you are choking. They have found no medical grounds for raising your arms above your head if you are choking. Yes, if you are having a hard time breathing or catching your breath after strenuous exercise for example, then raising your arms above your head raises your diaphragm, which in turn opens up your lungs for more air capacity, allowing you to take in more oxygen. However, raising your arms if you have a solid object blocking your airway can distract you and cause more harm than good.
All, they have discovered, hitting someone on their back if they are choking could cause them to be startled and in turn causing the object to get lodged further down their throat making it more difficult to be removed. Imagine you are out at a restaurant and begin choking. A Good Samaritan offers to help and begins hitting you on your back. Unbeknownst to them you have a back injury from an accident you may have had earlier that day or another day. If they hit you on the back aggressively or in the wrong way, they could not only cause the obstruction to get worse, they could do more damage to your back or spine. This is usually not a good option in my opinion because of too many unknown variables. Also, gravity could be an enemy in this instance because we want the object to go out, not go down and possibly go into the lung instead of the stomach.
So let’s say that our victim is coughing or wheezing to get air. This is the only reason we should leave them alone. You need to stay with them and encourage them to cough or to try to inhale the best they can. By staying with them you are in prime position for if they stop coughing, wheezing or being able to inhale air. If this happens, you have to act quickly.
Calling 911 is sometimes the best option. If you are unable to help the victim or if you are unsure of what to do to help, you can call 911. There are so many great things about 911 operators that we don’t always get to hear in the news. They are very well trained and they can not only get you the correct information you need to help someone in an emergency or send professional help to you quickly, they can help also help keep you calm so you do not panic in an emergency. They can also help in many different languages. So thinking that calling 911 is bad or that you will get in trouble is wrong. They are there to help and if you are unsure if you are in an emergency situation, just tell them and trust that they can help you.
So this brings me to the most well-known way to remove a solid airway obstruction from a victim. Dr. Henry Heimlich was born on February 3, 1920 in Wilmington, Delaware. He has many accomplishments, inventions, and patents throughout his career as a Medical Physician and Researcher. Around 1976, 2 years after the creation of the Heimlich maneuver, the American Heart Association as well as other large organizations adopted this method to relieve choking from a solid airway obstruction. This has been at the forefront of controversy for several years. I personally have performed the Heimlich maneuver on a 6 foot tall, 250 pound man choking in a restaurant as well as on my own son when he was 8 months old choking on vomit in his crib in the middle of the night. Both times I was able to successfully perform the Heimlich maneuver and save both of theirs lives.
So there you have it. The ins and outs of several different reactions people have to relieve choking from a solid airway obstruction. No matter what you know or believe, saving lives is most important. Please remember to always ask the victim if they want your help (because they have the right to refuse) and as long as you try to do so without malice or neglect to them, then you have done the right thing.