The amount of people dying from choking is far from falling, and is possibly on the rise. Food is the biggest contributor towards people dying. However babies and toddlers are particularly at risk from foreign objects such as toys. Statistics prove that when basic first aid principles are applied people will survive, so why are people still dying? Could there possibly be a call to rethink the way people are trained?
The first action to take when someone is choking is to deliver five sharp back slaps, downwards, across the shoulders. Luckily this is a very instinctive reaction that appears to be innate within humans. I can recount an incident where a Russian man's three year old son had noticed his brother choking, and then reacted by hitting him several times on the back. At his age he never received any formal training, but just knew what was required in the situation. It is worth noting that this did indeed work.
Five sharp back slaps will work in up to 80% of instances, which requires no more action from the first aider, other than a bit of reassurance to the casualty. If they fail however the next moments are critical to choking casualty's chances of survival. It is usually the failure of the 'back slaps' that creates an element of panic, which can quickly lead to the situation becoming out of control. It is crucial to keep calm, turn the casualty away from you, and then administer five abdominal thrusts. This is achieved by playing a clenched fist under the rib cage, placing the other hand on top, and then lifting upwards at full force.
If the abdominal thrusts don't work the whole process needs to be repeated. Once again calmness needs to take precedence as you begin to administer five back slaps, followed by five abdominal thrusts. In many situations family members will be in tears and tensions will undoubtedly rise as more time elapses. The role of the first aider in this situation is to keep calm and remain focused on the two movements. The cycle should be repeated until the object is clear. After three cycles an ambulance should be summoned in preparation for respiratory failure. If at any time the casualty goes limp, and stops breathing, you will need to administer CPR.
The above should not scare people as the success rates are incredibly high. One of the barriers to successful first aid treatment is actually getting started in the first place, because many people fear getting something wrong. The majority of objects clear when back slaps are followed by abdominal thrusts. Problems only to start to arise when the wrong treatment is given (e.g. shaking a baby upside down), which is often as a result of panic. Keep calm, stay focused and lives can be saved.
The new Red Cross advert paints a picture of a cancer survivor, who has done incredibly well to regain full fitness in his life. The television commercial shows his recovery from the initial treatment phase right through to his return to running. It then cuts to a family barbeque where the man begins to choke on a hot dog, and no one around him knows what to do. Sadly he goes on to die of choking. The morale of the advert is to show how easy lives can be lost, and cannot be a big enough advert for first aid training.
Geoff Goond is an experienced mountain rescue worker, and first aid trainer. Could you help a choking casualty? If not then visit the 3 day first aid course blog @ http://www.train-aid.co.uk for free life saving tips.