Choking: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options
What is Choking?
Types of Choking
Choking is a medical emergency that occurs when an object or piece of food gets lodged in the throat, blocking the airway and preventing proper breathing. There are two types of choking: partial and complete.
Partial choking occurs when the airway is partially blocked, allowing some air to pass through but not enough to breathe properly. This can cause coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. Partial choking is usually caused by food or other small objects getting stuck in the throat.
If someone is experiencing partial choking, they may be able to cough or speak, but they may also be making a high-pitched noise when breathing in. In such situations, it’s essential to encourage the person to continue coughing as this can help dislodge the blockage. If the coughing is not effective, the Heimlich maneuver, which involves abdominal thrusts, may be necessary to clear the obstruction.
Complete choking occurs when the airway is completely blocked, preventing any air from passing through. This can be a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate action. Complete choking can be caused by large pieces of food, such as chunks of meat or whole grapes, or other objects such as toys or coins.
If someone is experiencing complete choking, they will be unable to speak or cough and may start turning blue due to lack of oxygen. In such situations, it’s essential to act quickly and perform the Heimlich maneuver or back blows and abdominal thrusts to dislodge the obstruction.
In both cases, if the person becomes unconscious, it’s essential to start CPR immediately and call for emergency medical services. Prevention is key to avoiding choking incidents, especially in young children. Therefore, it’s important to supervise children during meals and ensure that they do not put small objects or food items in their mouths.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Choking?
- Coughing: The most common symptom of choking is coughing. Coughing is the body’s natural response to clear the airway of any obstruction. The cough may be weak or strong depending on the degree of obstruction.
- Wheezing: Wheezing is a high-pitched sound that is produced when air flows through a narrowed airway. Wheezing is a sign of partial obstruction and can be a symptom of choking.
- Difficulty breathing: Difficulty breathing is a common symptom of choking. As the airway becomes more obstructed, the person may have difficulty breathing and may start to feel short of breath.
- Chest pain: It is a common symptom of choking. The person may experience a sharp or dull pain in the chest due to the increased pressure in the chest cavity.
- Cyanosis: It is a bluish discoloration of the skin and mucous membranes. Cyanosis is a sign of severe oxygen deprivation and can occur in cases of severe choking.
- Loss of consciousness: In severe cases of choking, the person may lose consciousness due to a lack of oxygen. Loss of consciousness is a medical emergency and requires immediate intervention.
- Inability to speak or make noise: In some cases of choking, the person may not be able to speak or make any noise due to the obstruction in the airway.
What Causes Sudden Choking?
- Eating too quickly: The act of eating too quickly can cause large pieces of food to get stuck in the airway, leading to choking.
- Drinking alcohol: Drinking alcohol can cause relaxation of the muscles in the throat, making it easier for food or other objects to get stuck in the airway.
- Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), stroke, or Parkinson’s disease, can increase the risk of choking.
- Smoking: Smoking can cause irritation and inflammation in the airway, making it easier for food or other objects to get stuck.
- Exposure to chemicals or fumes: Exposure to certain chemicals or fumes can cause respiratory distress and choking.
- Allergic reactions: In some cases, allergic reactions can cause swelling of the airway, leading to choking.
- Compression or trauma to the chest: Compression or trauma to the chest can cause a disruption in the normal breathing process, leading to choking.
How to Diagnose Choking?
Choking is usually diagnosed based on the signs and symptoms that the person is experiencing. In some cases, the person may be able to indicate that they are choking, and medical assistance can be called immediately. However, if the person is unable to communicate or is unconscious, it can be difficult to diagnose choking.
Medical professionals will typically perform a physical exam and may ask questions about the events leading up to the choking episode. If the person is conscious, they may be asked to describe the sensation they are experiencing, such as a feeling of obstruction in the throat or chest pain.
In some cases, medical professionals may use diagnostic imaging tests, which include X-rays or CT scans, to determine the location and severity of the obstruction. These tests can also help identify any injuries or damage to the airway that may have occurred as a result of the choking episode.
What to do if Someone is Choking?
- Heimlich maneuver: The Heimlich maneuver is a choking first aid information procedure used to clear the airway of an obstructing object. This procedure involves applying pressure to the abdomen to dislodge the object from the airway.
- Back blows and chest thrusts: Back blows and abdonimal thrusts are also first aid procedures that can be used to clear the airway of an obstructing object. These procedures involve applying pressure to the back or chest to dislodge the object from the airway.
- Endoscopy: It is a procedure that uses a small camera attached to a thin, flexible tube to visualize the airway and remove any obstructing objects.
- Tracheostomy: Tracheostomy is a surgical procedure that involves creating an opening in the front of the neck to insert a tube into the trachea to help with choking.
- Oxygen therapy: Oxygen therapy can be used to provide supportive care to a person experiencing choking. This involves the administration of oxygen to help improve the oxygenation of the body.
- Intravenous fluids: Intravenous fluids may be given to a person who is dehydrated or has lost fluids due to vomiting or coughing.
- Antibiotics: Antibiotics may be prescribed if the choking episode is caused by an infection or if the person develops a respiratory infection following the choking episode.
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First Aid – How to Help Someone When They Are Choking?
If someone is choking, it is important to act quickly to clear the airway and provide assistance using choking first aid. Here are the steps to follow for first aid treatment for choking:
- Determine if the person is really choking: If the person is coughing or making sounds, encourage them to keep coughing to try and clear the obstruction.
- Call for emergency medical services: If you determine that the person is choking, call for emergency medical services immediately.
- Perform the Heimlich maneuver: If the person is conscious, stand behind them and apply pressure to the abdomen just above the navel with your fist, which the heimlich maneuver is used for. Give quick, upward thrusts until the object is dislodged. If the person is unable to stand or is pregnant, perform the modified Heimlich maneuver by placing your hands above the navel and below the rib cage and giving quick upward thrusts.
- Clear the airway: If the person becomes unconscious, lower them to the ground and clear their airway using your fingers. Open the person’s mouth, sweep out any visible obstructions with your fingers, and perform rescue breathing. If rescue breathing does not work, continue with chest compressions until emergency medical services arrive.
- Support the person: If the person is conscious, encourage them to sit or stand upright and breathe slowly. Offer to call their doctor or take them to the hospital.