Never Try This Method If You See Someone Choking, Experts Warn

This maneuver to rescue a person from choking can actually do more harm than good.

The holidays are a time of overindulgence, and after the last couple years, we all deserve the chance to gather with family and friends and eat to our heart's content. But if you plan on stuffing yourself with food at your celebrations this year, you should brush up on proper safety protocol. That includes how to make sure your food is prepared without risk of contamination, and how to warm up those next-day leftovers, but it's also about avoiding any accidents that happen while you're eating. Choking is a risk for all ages, and it's important to know what to do and what not to do if you or your loved ones bite off a bit more than you can chew. Read on to learn the one choking relief maneuver that can actually do more harm than good.

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Never do a blind finger sweep on a person who is choking.

older woman putting her hand to her neck and looking uncomfortable
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You may have been told that if a person is choking, you can use your finger to scoop out the offending mass and clear their airway. But unless you can see the food or foreign object yourself, you should keep your finger away. Otherwise, you'll be performing a "blind finger sweep," which can do more harm than good.

"Take the object out of their mouth only if you can see it," WebMD advises in its guide to choking treatment. "Never do a finger sweep unless you can see the object in the person's mouth."

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A blind finger sweep can quickly make the situation worse.

young woman coughing as she chokes while eating
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The problem with using a finger sweep to help a person who is choking is that when you can't see the food, you could be exacerbating the problem. The idea that a finger sweep is appropriate for all ages "has been replaced by evidence-based practices to only perform a finger sweep if you can see the object clearly in the person's mouth," according to National Health Care Provider Solutions (NHCPS). The problem, the organization notes, is that "blind finger sweeps may push an object further into the airway."

You can check a person's mouth for the food while performing first aid.

Heimlich Maneuver performing on choking man
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If you don't see the food obstructing their airway immediately, it may become dislodged and visible while performing abdominal thrusts, otherwise known as the Heimlich maneuver. According to NHCPS, "When providing choking first aid, visually check the mouth of the person receiving help between sets of abdominal thrusts or before administering rescue breaths." If you do see the food and can extricate it with a finger sweep, then you can use the technique.

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Make sure you know how to perform abdominal thrusts.

vector illustration of heimlich maneuver being performer
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Knowing what not to do is important, but you also need to know how you should respond if you see someone choking. Quoted directly from the WebMD site on choking first aid, here are the steps to take when doing the Heimlich maneuver:

  • Stand behind the person and wrap your arms around the waist.
  • Place your clenched fist just above the person's navel. Grab your fist with your other hand.
  • Quickly pull inward and upward as if trying to lift the person up.
  • Perform a total of 5 abdominal thrusts.
  • If the blockage is still not dislodged, continue cycles of 5 back blows and 5 abdominal thrusts until the object is coughed up or the person starts to breathe or cough.

Being able to properly perform abdominal thrusts can save a person's life, so make sure you've brushed up on how to do it right before any big family gatherings this holiday season.

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