The Heimlich Technique – How To Do It Correctly

The Heimlich technique is a series of maneuvers that are three-fold and whose aim is to eliminate objects that are stuck in the airways as is the case when one is choking. This technique is used on the abdominal region and revolves around the use of increased pressure so that it is possible to dislodge the stuck object. This is an important technique because more often than not, choking will begin immediately and swift action to administer this technique can help save a life. What are the steps that you need to follow to be able to use this technique effectively? Follow the following steps:

The material posted on this page on managing obstructed airways and recognizing choking victims is for learning purposes only. To learn to recognize and manage breathing and circulatory emergencies enrol in a first aid and / or CPR course with one of our training providers.

1)      Establish whether the person is really choking because choking victims will sometimes exhibit the symptoms of other different conditions. Typically, a person who is choking will usually have their hands around the neck with a scared look on their face. Since their airways are obstructed, it is not possible for the victim talk back when you talk to them. As such, they will usually nod their head in response to what you say. Some of the causes of airway obstruction include swelling in internal organs, trauma arising from accidents as well as accidental choking on food pieces. All these are cases where the Heimlich technique is relevant.

J-Thrusts for choking victim

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2)      What are some of the symptoms that accompany the blockage of air pathways?

  • The victim cannot speak properly, and in some cases, cannot speak at all.
  • Breathing becomes labored, and can be very noisy.
  • The victim is not able to cough properly.
  • The lips will often change color from red to bluish or gray. The same may be seen on the finger nails. This occurs due to the low supply of oxygen, something that is characteristic of choking.
  • Exhibiting the universal sign for choking which involves holding the throat with both hands.
  • In some cases, choking will end with the loss of consciousness. All these symptoms are all indications of the need to perform the Heimlich technique.

3)      Reassure the victim to let them know that they are not alone. Before you call 911, make sure that you try to give help since each and every second counts in such an emergency. If there are other people present’, get them to call for professional medical help as you administer the Heimlich technique. This will also be helpful as it will ensure that there is an extra set of eyes to look after the victim.

4)      Heimlich technique is given while standing, but can also be administered while sitting if the victim is heavy. This is also applicable if you are in restricted space. You need to ensure that there is sufficient space to carry out the maneuvers.

5)      Give blows on the back of the victim’s shoulder blades to help eliminate the obstructing object. If the object does not get ejected, provide thrusts to the abdominal region. Note that the amount of force you use should differ if you are giving the thrusts to a child. Do not use this maneuver on an unconscious person.

Alternate between 5 back blows and 5 “j-thrusts” until the obstruction is removed or the victim becomes unconscious.

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2 Responses to “The Heimlich Technique – How To Do It Correctly”

  1. Heimlich Heroes July 7, 2014 at 8:53 pm #

    Dr. Heimlich has NEVER recommended giving blows/hits to the choking victim’s back. This is very dangerous in fact, as it has been proven to drive the item deeper into the trachea making it even harder to dislodge. Start with the inward/upward thrusts on the diaphragm. Please correct your story.

    • vanfirstaid July 14, 2014 at 4:51 am #

      Thanks for the great comment. Back blows have been inserted into the latest choking rescue techniques for fully obstructed conscious victims. These have been placed back in the standards as a recommendation by the International Liaison Committee on Resuscitation (ILCOR) which is one of the leading bodies in terms of CPR and choking rescue guidelines. Feel free to read the latest guidelines here on page 27 of the 2010 ILCOR review.

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