It’s a good idea to learn (or get a refresher on) the Heimlich maneuver. This simple technique was invented by Henry Heimlich, an American thoracic surgeon who, after learning that thousands of people die every year from choking, devised a way to use the air trapped in the lungs to expel the offending object from a victim’s airway. Choking is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S., and knowing what to do in a pinch can absolutely save someone’s life. Follow these steps to properly perform the Heimlich and keep friends and family safe.
How to: Do the Heimlich
1. First, determine whether someone is actually choking. For instance, your Aunt Bessie, a lifelong smoker, may actually just be laughing through tar-clogged lungs at your mother’s expense rather than choking on the bread pudding. A choking victim will often have their hands at their throat and a panicked look on their face. They won’t be able to breathe or speak, or may make noisy breathing sounds. They will not be able to cough effectively and may turn gray or blue, or even lose consciousness.
2. If Aunt Bessie is, in fact, choking, reassure her you’re going to help her and have someone else call 911. It only takes four minutes without air for brain damage to begin, so every second counts here; don’t waste time fumbling with your iPhone.
3. Stand Aunt Bessie up and get behind her with your legs spread apart for stability. This will enable you to best catch and lower her to the floor if she loses consciousness.
4. Circle your arms around Aunt Bessie’s abdomen. Make a fist with your dominant hand and your thumb pointing inward toward her stomach, and position your fist just above her bellybutton and under her breastbone. Wrap your other hand firmly around your fist.
5. Now it’s time to Heimlich: Pull inward and upward quickly, using good force — almost as if trying to lift Auntie off her feet. Do several abdominal thrusts in quick succession until the object is dislodged and expelled. (Use the same technique, but with slightly less force, with children)
6. You can perform the Heimlich on yourself, as well, either with the above technique or by placing your hands in the proper position and pressing downward against a stable object like a chair or countertop.
7. Make sure Aunt Bessie is breathing normally before returning her to the dinner table, where she will happily continue making jokes at your mother’s expense.
Note: If you think someone is choking, do NOT slap or pat them on the back. This may cause the object to become lodged farther down into the airway and could do more harm than good (exception: infants younger than 1).
Don’t Choke on This!
Because every kid on earth loves to put random stuff in his or her mouth, learning the Heimlich is important for every mom, helicopter version or not. Not convinced? Check out these scary stats:
- Ninety percent of deaths from a foreign object occur in children 5 and younger.
- At least one child dies choking on food every five days in the U.S.
- Candy is associated with 19 percent of all choking-related ER visits by kids 14 and younger.
- Hot dogs cause more choking deaths than any other food.
- Grapes, raw carrots, popcorn and nuts follow closely behind.
Get CPR certified to be able to perform this and other lifesaving techniques competently and safely. Visit redcross.org/CPR-training to find a course near you.