What to do if someone is choking on food

Dear Editor,

Across North America close to 4000 perfectly healthy people annually die from choking on food. In fact, food-choking kills more people than firearms or airplane accidents. Often the victim, anxious to avoid an embarrassing scene runs alone to the bathroom, where he is later discovered dead. His companions often think their friend suffered a heart attack. Don’t be deceived – their friend died because he could not breathe. What, then, should you do when confronted by a choking victim?

The first problem is recognition. Food-choking is a life-threatening medical emergency that is fatal in minutes unless action is taken. Instinctively, a victim will clutch his throat – a universal symbol of choking. A person with food stuck in his windpipe will not be able to talk. Before doing anything, simply ask the person to speak. If there’s a response, do nothing further except stay with the person and encourage coughing as a way of independently clearing the airway. When the choking has worsened to the point where the person can no longer speak, you should tell him/her that you understand what’s happening and that you are going to help.

Get behind the person and give three or four firm blows between the shoulder blades with the heel of your hand. This may dislodge the obstruction; check by asking the person to speak. If there is no response you must proceed with a simple but effective procedure known as the ‘Heimlich Manoeuvre.’ Stand behind and encircle the person with your arms. Make a fist with one hand and place the thumb side over the part of the belly, just below the breast bone. Place your free hand over your fist, then give three or four sharp, hard squeezes, upward and back. Again check whether you have been successful by asking the person to speak; if silence, then repeat the back blows, followed by the abdominal thrusts.

If the victim is too big for you to get your arms around, or is pregnant, the technique needs to be altered slightly; instead of putting your fist over the upper part of the belly, place it over the lower third of the breast bone. If sitting instead of standing, simply crouch behind and put your arms around the person who’s in the chair.

What if the person becomes unconscious and has fallen to the floor? The lifesaving process remains very much the same. Kneel beside and roll the person towards you and onto your lap. Give four hard blows between shoulder blades to dislodge the obstruction and then roll the person onto his back. Place the heel of one hand over the lower third of the breast bone, and your other hand directly over it. Give four vigorous thrusts and hopefully, the food will pop out. Finally, scoop out the victim’s mouth with your finger to remove any food which may have been dislodged.

Can you do it yourself? Certainly! There are many people who have successfully saved their own lives by putting their fist over the upper part of their bellies, and then compressed their abdomens by leaning forward forcibly over a firm object such as the back of a chair or edge of a table.

Let’s review the steps:

(1) Identify the problem; ask can you

(2) Reassure the victim; don’t let him/her
run away.

(3) Give four firm back blows.

(4) Check again,”Can you speak?”

(5) Give four vigorous abdominal or chest

(6) If he/she continues to choke, repeat the

Yours faithfully,
George L Munroe
Executive Member Canadian College of
Health Service Executives


Pile-driving by private citizen for first-floor pool threatening nearby homes

Dear Editor, The bombardment of the Triumph front lands community on the East Coast of Demerara, continues.


Dear Editor, Your editorial yesterday, on the non-implementation of CoI recommendations among other accepted policies, brings to mind two of my ‘Rules for Living in the Rupununi’: 4.

I am a GNBA board member but I do not back Broadcasting Bill

Dear Editor, I am a member of the Governing Board of the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority, having been nominated by the Leader of the Opposition.

The Public Utilities Commission must act within the parameters of Act 10, 1999

Dear Editor, From the onset, permit us to state that it is not the policy of the Public Utilities Commission to respond to articles or letters published in the media, as some concerns and/or issues are directly within the purview of the utility in question.

Noise levels at night around All Saints Church, NA intolerable

Dear Editor, I am writing to ask for your intervention in a matter of great urgency in the town of New Amsterdam and it concerns the application of laws, rules, and regulations (or lack thereof) in the matter of noise abatement at the comer of Trinity and Main Streets.

Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly.

We built stabroeknews.com using new technology. This makes our website faster, more feature rich and easier to use for 95% of our readers.
Unfortunately, your browser does not support some of these technologies. Click the button below and choose a modern browser to receive our intended user experience.

Update my browser now