The First Thing You Should Do When Someone Starts Choking

Choking is a scary occurrence whether it's happening to you or to someone nearby. When someone in your line of sight starts to choke, adrenaline rushes in and it can be hard to know exactly what to do. But taking action quickly can save a life.

Health Digest spoke with Tracy Jones-Darnell, Ed.D., MSN, RN, CNE, and faculty member for Walden University's RN-BSN program. She has been a registered nurse for over 24 years, taught nursing for 11 years and CPR courses for the American Heart Association for 18 years. Jones-Darnell said the first step when you see someone choking is to calmly approach and ask them if they are okay. "If the person can talk or verbalize, then you know they are okay and do not have a blocked airway. Assure the person that you are here to help and try to help them remain calm," she said.

If someone is grabbing their throat, that's a sign they may be choking, according to Jones-Darnell. "You will also likely notice that the person appears generally frightened and is moving erratically. Assure them you are there to help. Try to limit conversation to clear and concise statements and yes or no questions," she said.

When to call for help

If the person choking is unable to speak, remain with them, turn to someone else and ask them to call 911. Jones-Darnell said that controlling your own emotions is key. "It is very important to stay calm as this is a frightening event for the person and they do not need to pick up on your additional anxiety. Calmly tell the person who is choking that you know CPR and are there to help them. Once you've communicated that you are there to help them, then proceed to perform the Heimlich."

It is important to note, says Jones-Darnell, that many people think the Heimlich maneuver should not be performed on someone who is pregnant. This is untrue; if you do not perform the Heimlich then the mother will not be able to deliver oxygen to the baby and both lives will be in jeopardy. "When performing the Heimlich on a pregnant person, simply position your hands as far above the abdomen as possible," she advised.

It's also important to let the individual know you're going to touch them before you do so. "Do not touch a person unless you have first told them you are going to help. This is especially important when it comes to children. Always tell the parent or caregiver that you know CPR and are there to help their child before you begin CPR," said Jones-Darnell.