Basically, there are two forms of choking. There’s a partial obstruction to the airway or a complete blockage of the airway. Despite what our parents might have told us, there is a better first aid treatment for choking adults.
Partial Obstruction of The Airway
If someone has a partial obstruction of his airway air can still get in and out. They will be coughing, wheezing, making little gasping or gurgling noises. They’ll be very noisy. They will also be distressed and anxious as anyone would be if they couldn’t breathe.
The treatment for choking adults with partial obstruction is that you lean them forward as far as you can. Just encourage them to take nice, deep breaths. Tell them …
“Okay. Take a nice deep breath. Cough it up. Everything is going to be fine.”
We encourage their breathing. What occurs is that we have this uncontrollable urge to smack them in the back. Some more than others. It’s wired into us by our parents. The problem is that you run the risk of actually dislodging that object and they can actually re-inhale it on the next gasp or cough. You can actually make a mundane condition worse.
Full Obstruction of The Airway
What if our victim has complete obstruction in his airway? He can’t cough. There’s no way he can get air in or out of that airway. He can’t wheeze, he can’t gurgle, he can’t make any sound at all. This is the frightening thing, it’s silent. I have been in a situation where someone was choking behind me. I was unaware that they were choking until someone actually rushed past me to deal with it. That’s the thing to bear in mind – that a complete obstruction is silent.
This is a life-threatening condition. Potentially, they could be unconscious within 3 minutes and they could die. Say someone is sitting at a table choking with a complete blockage. They can’t gasp for air. They will be agitated and possibly going red or purple in the face. Treatment for choking adults with full obstruction is lean them forward as much as we can. Give 5 quick, firm blows between the shoulder blades with the palm of your hand. The direction of the blow is actually in an upwards direction. One, two, three, four, five.
Then we check the airway. Has it cleared? If not we can lean them back up into the chair. Put the hand against the chest, similar to CPR. Press firmly five times. We are checking that airway and trying to see if they can cough up the obstruction. If not, lean them forward again and give 5 more sharp blows between the shoulder blades. Is the airway clear? No. Once more, return to the front and give 5 more compressions.
If they lose consciousness, you now have a patient that is non-responsive and not breathing properly. Our protocol to treat a choking adult is that we go straight into CPR.
Then one of two things will happen. We might be able to force air around that blockage, so we get air into his longs or even better, we may even be able to force the blockage further down into the airway and into one of the branches of the lung. They will still have a medical condition that needs to be dealt with, but the other lung would inflate and we would have saved their life.
Remember To Call For Help
This condition is serious so if you’ve given those five back slaps and can’t clear that airway, get someone to ring an ambulance. If you’re on your own and this person has a blocked airway, get on your phone straight away because once you start this treatment, you are committed to follow it through. You need to make sure that an ambulance gets there.
If an ambulance rolls up and the airway has been cleared, they won’t be angry with you. Choking is a life-threatening condition. If they arrive and everything’s fine, that’s someone they don’t have to save. They will still take the casualty off for observation, but treatment for choking adults requires that you still make that call.