Have you ever been so hungry that you feel like you could eat a horse? Unleashed on an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet, you attack with gusto! Breadsticks, pizza, more breaksticks…you start stuffing your face like there's no tomorrow.
Unfortunately, you stuff your face so full, so fast, that you forget to chew. Before you know it, you can't breathe…you can't cough…food is stuck in your throat! Your hands grasp your throat and you begin to turn blue as you gesture wildly to those around you.
Luckily, someone nearby recognizes the signs of choking and comes to your aid. They tilt you forward and wrap their arms around your midsection from behind, giving you several quick abdominal thrusts that dislodge the food stuck in your throat.
Although choking has occurred since the beginning of time, the abdominal thrust technique for first aid for choking has only been around since 1974. It was then that Dr. Henry Heimlich introduced his method for dislodging food stuck in the airway by performing several quick abdominal thrusts to force air upward to push the food back out through the mouth.
Choking occurs when food goes down your windpipe (trachea) instead of your esophagus (the tube that goes from your throat to your stomach). This can happen when the epiglottis (a small piece of cartilage in the back of the throat) fails to close in time to seal off your trachea when you're swallowing food or liquid.
Usually, when this happens, your body forces you to cough. Coughing uses the air in the lungs to force the food or liquid out of the trachea. When something completely blocks the trachea, though, air can't get into or out of the lungs. That's what we call choking.
When people choke, they often panic. They may gesture wildly and grab at their throat. They may also begin to turn blue as their bodies are deprived of oxygen they need to live. If this goes on long enough, they may become unconscious from lack of oxygen.
If you notice someone choking, it's important to get help for them as quickly as possible. The Heimlich Maneuver uses the oxygen trapped in a person's lungs to dislodge whatever is blocking the airway. This is accomplished by using abdominal thrusts to force the air in a person's lungs back up the trachea to dislodge the blockage.
Although the Heimlich Maneuver is usually performed by one person on another, you can perform it on yourself by performing abdominal thrusts on yourself. This can be done, for example, by bending over a chair and using the back of the chair to force the air out of your lungs.
If you'd like to learn how to do the Heimlich Maneuver, you should learn from a trained professional. Perhaps you or your class or your entire family could take a first aid class from a local organization, such as the Red Cross.