Why Drinking Water When Choking Is A Dangerous Choice

One minute you're sitting down to enjoy a nice meal, and the next, you're coughing up a storm, struggling to speak, clutching at your throat, and finding it difficult to breathe. 

Choking, when someone is around and knows what to do in such a situation, might not be as dangerous, but it can be life-threatening when you're alone. There were 5,325 choking deaths in the U.S. in the year 2021, per Statista. Chocking is most common among the elderly, and food is usually the culprit. In kids, choking could happen when they put foreign objects in their mouths.  

If you ever find yourself choking, you might think reaching for the glass of water on the dinner table and taking a few sips would resolve the problem, but experts strongly advise against this. Drinking water while choking not only doesn't help solve the problem but can make things worse by causing more blockage, per British Red Cross. The first thing you should do if you start choking is see if you can cough and speak. "If you're able to cough, say any words, or speak in any way, you're not completely occluded," explained Dr. Sanford Vieder, medical director of Lakes Urgent Care in West Bloomfield, Michigan, to SELF

The next steps

Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. Even if you're unable to speak, the respondent on the other end of the line should be able to interpret your signs of distress (coughing and finding it difficult to breathe) and send help. This is especially important if you end up losing consciousness due to the choking, according to Denis Kelley, CRP Coordinator at Parkview Health. The next tip is to try to cough as loudly and forcefully as you can. "The cough reflex is still your best friend to try to expel whatever may be stuck or caught," shared Dr. Sanford Vieder (via SELF). 

If this doesn't work, you can try the Heimlich maneuver on yourself. Make a fist with your hand, with your thumbs pointing inward, and place it under your ribcage and above your navel. Wrap your other hand around the fist and thrust into your stomach in an in-and-up movement, per Medical News Today. This quick motion, done hard and fast, should force air back up and hopefully dislodge that annoying piece of food stuck in your throat. You can also "find something to thrust your abdomen over to dislodge the object, whether it be the back of a chair or a countertop and keep thrusting until the object dislodges," explained Kelley. If you manage to spit out whatever was causing the blockage, it's still important to seek medical attention. You could have injured your throat or diaphragm with the Heimlich maneuver or thrusting, so it's always best to have that checked out. 

Prevention is a better way to go when it comes to choking

You might think that eating mindfully and slowly is something we all do, but this is not always the case. Laughing, talking excessively, and drinking alcohol while eating are all part and parcel of dinnertime fun. And this can all lead to choking. Alcohol can disrupt the way your muscles naturally respond, and this relaxed gag reflex can lead to choking, per CPR123. It's also not unheard of that you eat a lot faster and less mindfully when alcohol is involved. 

Cut your food into smaller pieces if you must, and chew intentionally before you swallow. Sitting upright and giving yourself the room to digest well is also important. "Even though we don't give it much thought, eating is serious business. Eat more slowly and pay attention — it's important," added Dr. Sanford Vieder (via SELF). 

It might also be helpful to brush up on your first aid skills so that you're prepared when dangerous situations present themselves. Learning about the first thing you should do when someone starts choking, how to do the Heimlich Maneuver on yourself and others, and even CPR if someone you know has choked and lost consciousness can come in handy. Keep in mind, however, that choking-related first aid tips for someone who's pregnant will differ from those for someone who isn't.