Normally, when we swallow food, a little flap called the epiglottis blocks the airway (trachea) so that the food is pushed down the esophagus down to the stomach. But sometimes this process doesn't work and the food gets stuck resulting in a blocked airway. This is called choking. With young children, choking often occurs when they attempt to swallow a small toy.
Prevention of Choking
Choking is one of those situations that can be easily avoided with a little thought. Here are some tips:
- Chew food adequately and don't try to swallow large pieces.
- Don't drink large quantities of alcohol before or during meals as this dulls the gag reflex which aids swallowing.
- Avoid walking or other physical activity with food in your mouth.
- Keep objects out of the mouth. For example, do not hold a pen cap or nails in your mouth when your hands are busy.
Two Categories of Choking
- Complete Obstruction: This is where there is no air going in and out and as a result the casualty is unable to breath and unable to cough. There may be very high pitched wheezing sounds. Because the casualty can't cough they will most likely not be able to expel the object without assistance. As a first aider this is the time to do abdominal thrusts to force the object out. If the casualty is pregnant/obese then the rescuer must do chest thrusts.
- Partial Obstruction: This is where the airway is not completely blocked. The casualty is able to cough strongly enough to expel the object on their own. Because they can get the object out on their own, first aiders should not do abdominal thrusts. Instead, just stay with the casualty and encourage them to keep coughing.
First Aid for Choking
As long as the person is able to cough, you need not do anything other than remain at the scene and support the person. However, the situation worsens, there are first aid steps to take:
- If the person is conscious, but not able to cough, shout for help and begin abdominal thrusts.
- If the person is unconscious and not breathing, call EMS; begin CPR; and look in the person's mouth for an obstruction after each cycle of compressions, but before attempting to ventilate.