How to save someone who is choking

For babies aged under one year old who are conscious, the child should be laid down lengthwise on your arm.
For babies aged under one year old who are conscious, the child should be laid down lengthwise on your arm. Photo credit: Getty

The tragic death of a 30-year-old man who choked on a pie has brought attention to the danger of choking.

Phillip Andrew Ludemann was taking part in a time trial at a Christchurch rugby club that involved eating a pie as fast as he could.

The 30-year-old choked on the pie and could not be revived by emergency services.

So what should you do if you see someone choking?

To help an adult

According to the New Zealand Red Cross, the best way to help an adult who is choking is to use back blows and, if needed, chest thrusts. 

If the choking person is coughing, this should be encouraged, as they may be able to get rid of the stuck object by themselves.

In order to perform a back blow, you should stand to the side and slightly behind the choking person, supporting their chest with one hand. They should be bent over so that if the object comes clear, it will fall out of their mouth and not back into the airway.

Five "sharp" blows should be given on the back, between the airways. 

"Each individual blow should be a separate action, with the intent of relieving the obstruction". 

If the back blows do not work, you should give the choking person up to five chest thrusts.

In order to deliver chest thrusts, the helper should stand behind the choking person, with their arms under their armpits wrapping around the choking person's chest.

The helper should make a fist with one hand, with the thumb side of the fist placed against the middle of the sternum, over the breastbone but avoiding the lower tip. You should grab the fist with the other hand and give a quick thrust inwards but pulling the fist towards you.

According to the Red Cross, chest thrusts should only be performed on people who are conscious. For anyone who becomes unconscious, CPR should be performed.

To help an infant

For babies aged under one-year-old who are conscious, the child should be laid down lengthwise on your arm with the head firmly supported by holding the jaw.

You should then slap the baby five times on the back between the shoulder blades with the heel of your hand, taking care not to hit too hard. 

The child should then be sandwiched between your arms and turned over, and then, using two fingers, you should deliver five chest thrusts just below the nipple line.

The airway should then be checked.

If the infant is unconscious, the baby should be placed on a firm surface and the airway opened to a neutral position. You should then listen for breathing. 

After this CPR should be given: 30 compressions followed by two small "gentle rescue puffs". This cycle of 30 compressions to two breaths should be continued until the item is dislodged and the baby is breathing.