6. What to Do If Someone Is Choking

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One day you may be at a party, or at work, or may be just enjoying a movie, or doing a little shopping when something serious happens around you. Choking is no laughing matter. When a person is choking, his or her airway is obstructed and the person cannot breathe. Let's say you are at a restaurant when your guest, or maybe even a complete stranger, begins to gasp for air and clutches at his or her neck. This is a clear sign that something is very wrong, but what do you do? Your actions in the next few minutes can mean the life or death of a person right in front of you.

Choking is the mechanical obstruction of the flow of air from the environment into the lungs. Choking prevents breathing, and can be partial or complete, with partial choking allowing some, although inadequate, flow of air into the lungs. Prolonged or complete choking results in asphyxia which leads to anoxia and is potentially fatal. Oxygen stored in the blood and lungs can keep a person alive for several minutes after breathing stops, so you can see how important it is for you to act, and to act quickly.

If a person can still breathe and talk, coughing often does the trick. But when someone is truly choking, it means the food or object is completely blocking the airway and air cannot flow into and out of the lungs. When the person cannot cough the object out and cannot breathe, talk, or even make noise, it means choking is severe. You should begin by using the Heimlich maneuver, but it is important that you are trained in administering this treatment. If you are not trained in the Heimlich maneuver, find someone who is, or call the 911 emergency number immediately.

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