Choking

What is choking?
choking

Food or small objects can cause choking and block the airway. This keeps oxygen from getting to the lungs and brain. If the brain goes without oxygen for more than four minutes, it may cause brain damage or death. It is a medical emergency that requires fast, appropriate action by anyone available.

Certain cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation or surgery may causes dysphagia (Painful swallowing) and choking.

How bad is my choking?

For an adult, you may observe the following behaviors:

  • Coughing or gagging
  • Hand signals and panic (sometimes pointing to the throat)
  • Sudden inability to talk
  • Clutching the throat: The natural response is to grab the throat with one or both hands.
  • Wheezing
  • Passing out
  • A blue colored skin appears around the face, lips, and fingernail beds.
How to manage mild choking?
  • It is best not to do anything if the person is coughing forcefully and not turning a bluish color. Ask, “Are you choking?” If the person is able to answer you by speaking, it is a partial airway obstruction. Stay with the person and encourage him or her to cough and clear the obstruction.
  • Do not give the person anything to drink because fluids may take up space needed for the passage of air.
How to manage moderate and severe choking?

Someone who cannot answer by speaking and can only nod the head has a complete airway obstruction and needs emergency help.

What causes choking?
  • Esophageal cancer
  • In older adults, risk factors are advancing age, poorly fitting dental work, and alcohol consumption.
  • In adults, unchewed food, talking or laughing while eating may cause a piece of food to “go down the wrong pipe.
  • Chewing food incompletely, attempting to eat large pieces of food or too much food at one time, or eating hard candy may causes choking in children.

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