The First Thing You Should Do If You See Somebody Choking

Seeing someone choking can be a scary situation. It may seem like a rare occurrence, but nearly 5,000 people choked to death in the United States in 2020, according to Statista. Choking occurs when a foreign object — usually a piece of food — becomes stuck in an individual's throat or windpipe. This causes a lack of oxygen to the brain, which can result in brain cells dying, explains the Cleveland Clinic.

The universal sign of someone choking is the hands-to-the-throat. Other signs include the person having trouble speaking, skin and/or lips are turning blue, squeaky sounds coming from their mouth when trying to breathe, or fainting, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you encountered these signs from someone, would you know what to do? When properly trained, you will know the first thing you should do if you see somebody choking. Additionally, training can give you peace of mind and the tools you need to address this type of emergency.

Have someone else call 911 during a choking emergency

If you notice the signs of someone choking, your response will depend on if you are alone or there are other people nearby. If you're the only person who can help, begin performing the Heimlich maneuver before calling 911. If other people are around, the Mayo Clinic suggests having someone else make the call while you start with first aid. Even if the foreign object becomes dislodged, the person may still need medical attention.

To administer first aid, begin by checking if the person can dislodge the object themselves. If they can speak, breathe, or cough, their airway may only be partially blocked. Tell the person to keep coughing until the object is out (per the National Health Service). If they are unable to cough out the object, it's time to intervene.

Start by giving 5 back blocks by hitting the heel of the hand in between the shoulder blades. Then, perform 5 abdominal thrusts. Wrap your arms around the person, making a fist above the stomach. Grabbing the fist with the other hand, pull up quickly as if you are trying to lift the person up. If the object is not removed, continue with this cycle. If the person faints, begin administering CPR until help arrives (per WebMD).

For formal training, find a class with the American Red Cross near you. You will learn how to perform CPR, as well as how to give the Heimlich to someone else or yourself.