Choking often occurs in the pleasantest surroundings â€“ enjoying Father’s Day dinner, talking with friends over coffee and cookies, or cheering at a ball game while munching pop-corn â€“ all of which can happen in a food service environment.Â Choking, respiratory distress and oxygen lack can quickly ensue if a small object, such as a piece of food or the tab of a pop can, becomes lodged in the throat (windpipe), partially or totally cutting off air to the lungs.
Usually a good strong cough releases whatever has stuck in the throat and the person is left somewhat red-faced, teary-eyed, possibly with a sore throat and perhaps a trifle embarrassed. But sometimes coughing isn’t enough to dislodge the object and death from choking can quickly follow if the airway is completely blocked.
Within minutes (some say as quickly as 40 seconds) the choking person can become unconscious and suffer cardiac arrest. Although the heart may still be resuscitated, the person may be left with mild to severe neurological damage. Brain damage from lack of oxygen will follow in four to six minutes if the airway remains completely obstructed.Â Survival depends on immediate first aid to get oxygen to the brain.
Recognition of choking is the key to saving a life.Â A large proportion of choking deaths occur because â€“ prompted by good manners and social conditioning â€“ the choking person seeks privacy while trying to clear the airway.Â A choking person needs immediate first aid and should never leave a room where others are present.Â If the person does leave, the potential rescuer should follow to give first aid if necessary.Â If the choking person can still breathe and make sounds, leave him or her alone and encourage vigorous coughing to expel the object.Â If the person cannot speak, has a weak cough, bluish face or finds it hard to breathe, try the Heimlich maneuver, which will often clear the obstruction with three to four thrusts.
Emergency Health Services should be summoned if a choking person can’t speak, is making a high-pitched wheezing noise and most urgently if the person becomes unconscious. Dial 911 immediately for emergency aid if a choking person loses consciousness.
Basic steps used in the Heimlich maneuver
Before performing any lifesaving technique on a conscious person, the rescuer must obtain consent.Â Ask the victim: “Are you choking?” Once consent (a nod will do) is received, the Heimlich maneuver can be performed while the choking person is standing or seated.
The four basic Heimlich steps used to clear the airway are:
- From behind, place your arms around the victim’s waist.
- Make a fist with one hand and place the thumb side of the fist against the choking person’s abdomen, well below the rib cage and just above the navel.
- Grasp your fist with the other hand and press into the victim’s abdomen (just above the navel) with quick upward thrusts.
- Repeat thrusts until the object is expelled.
If the airway is not cleared, the choker may become unconscious. If this happens, try to make the person’s fall to the ground as gentle as possible to prevent injury, especially to the head.Â An ambulance should have been called since brain and heart damage can quickly follow loss of consciousness.
While awaiting emergency medical help, a trained rescuer can perform the Heimlich technique on an unconscious person who’s placed on his or her back. Although the principle is the same when lying down, the technique varies slightly. The rescuer kneels astride the person and body weight is used to produce quick upward thrusts.
All front of the house food and beverage employees should be taught to recognize the signs of a person choking and how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver.
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