Choking is the blockage of the upper airway by objects or food which prevents the individual from breathing properly. A choking episode can cause a coughing fit but full blockage of the airway might lead to death.
Remember that choking is considered as a true medical emergency that entails prompt, appropriate action by anyone available. The emergency medical team might not arrive in time to save the individual who is choking.
How breathing works
It is a known fact that breathing is a vital part of life. When an individual inhales, a mix of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide and other gases are breathed in.
In the lungs, the oxygen enters the bloodstream to supply the entire body. Oxygen is utilized as a source of fuel to produce energy from the foods eaten. Carbon dioxide is a waste product that enters the bloodstream and travels to the lungs.
During exhalation, carbon dioxide, oxygen and nitrogen are expelled. When an individual is choking with a completely blocked airway, oxygen could not enter the lungs. Take note that the brain is highly sensitive to the lack of oxygen and starts to die within 4-6 minutes. It is during this period that first aid care must be provided. Irreversible brain death can occur in just a span of 10 minutes.
Causes of choking
In most cases, chocking is caused when an object or piece of food is embedded in the upper airway.
It is important to note that there are two openings in the rear part of the mouth – esophagus and trachea. When an individual swallows, the trachea is covered by the epiglottis which prevents food from entering the lungs.
Any object that goes into the airway becomes stuck as the airway constricts. Many large-sized objects can be embedded inside the trachea at the vocal cords.
Among adults, choking typically occurs once foods are not properly chewed. Laughing or talking while eating can cause a piece of the food to go through the wrong pipe. The normal swallowing mechanism can be slowed if the individual has been drinking alcohol or using certain drugs or if the individual has certain health issues such as Parkinson’s disease.
Symptoms of choking
If you suspect that an individual is choking, the following symptoms can be observed.
- Hand signaling and panic
- Gagging or coughing
- Abrupt inability to talk
- Clutching the throat is a natural reaction to choking where the individual grabs the throat with one or both hands.
- Passing out
- Individual turns blue in color
- For infants, there is a weak cry, cough or both
When to seek medical care
Remember that choking is an emergency that can quickly result to death if not promptly managed. Call for emergency assistance right away. In addition, do not attempt to bring the individual to the hospital.
Even though it will only require one individual to provide first aid to the choking individual, there are other measures to carry out. While preparing to help out the individual, try to shout for help. Request any by-standers to call for emergency assistance.
In case the choking episode was properly manage at home and there is no object present in the airway, a visit to the hospital might no longer be needed. If you are alone and no one is around to help, do not leave the choking individual to call for emergency assistance. Start first aid right away. You can enroll in a class on first aid today to learn the appropriate emergency care to perform.