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What to do if someone is choking

More than 200 people choke to death in the UK every year – both adults and children, and it can be a terrifying prospect to be faced with. But as A&E doctor Saleyha Ahsan shows, just knowing a few simple tips can help you save someone’s life if they start choking.

If a child can walk, then treat them as an adult, and there are three things to do:

  • Cough. Get them to try to cough it up, and if that doesn’t work…

  • Slap. Get them to lean forward, support them with one hand in the centre of their chest and give them a hard slap right in the centre of their back with the heel of your hand. You need to be firm – you should really feel it on your hand. If the first slap doesn’t dislodge it, then slap them again. Each time, check whether you have managed to clear the obstruction, but if not give up to 5 firm backslaps. If this doesn’t work, then don’t panic…

  • Squeeze. Grasp the person round their middle from behind. Put your thumb into the palm of your hand, and close your fingers round it to make a fist. Then with the thumb side of your fist, point it into their abdomen, halfway between their belly button and the bottom of their breast bone. Put your other hand on top, and squeeze tightly, inwards and upwards. Check to see if this has dislodged the object. If not, do it again. Do up to 5 of these abdominal thrusts, and then go back to the 5 back slaps.

  • Get someone to call for an ambulance if three cycles of slaps and abdominal thrusts don’t work. Even if your thrusts have been successful, the person should always be checked out in case there is any internal damage. But don’t be afraid to try these techniques – in an emergency, it is trying that counts.

  • If it is a young baby that is choking, too young to walk, then just adapt the techniques slightly:

  • Slap. For the slaps, lay the baby face down along one forearm and slap them firmly in the centre of the back with the other hand. Again, the slap should be sharp and hard. As before, do up to 5 of these, but if they don’t work, try…

  • Squeeze. Lay the baby face up on your forearm, and using two fingers poke hard downwards and slightly towards the head on their breastbone, in the centre of their chest just below their nipples. Again, do up to 5 of these, and then, if necessary, turn the baby over and try the back slaps again.

As with an adult, get someone to call an ambulance if the initial back slaps and thrusts haven’t worked, and ensure that the baby is checked for any problems if you’ve had to do an abdominal thrust.