How Does The Heimlich Maneuver Work?

The Heimlich maneuver, also known as abdominal thrusts, is a life-saving technique used to clear a blocked airway when someone is choking. It applies abdominal pressure to force the obstruction out of the airway and restore normal breathing. In this blog post, we will explore how the Heimlich maneuver works and when it should be administered.

Purpose of the Heimlich Maneuver

Choking occurs when a foreign object, such as a piece of food or a small object, becomes lodged in the throat, blocking the flow of air into the lungs. This can lead to a life-threatening situation where the person is unable to breathe.

The Heimlich maneuver is designed to:

  1. Clear the Airway: By applying pressure to the abdomen, it forces the diaphragm and lungs to compress, increasing pressure in the chest cavity. This pressure can expel the obstructing object from the airway, allowing air to flow freely.
  2. Prevent Suffocation: The maneuver aims to prevent the person from suffocating by rapidly removing the blockage, enabling the person to breathe again.

Steps to Perform the Heimlich Maneuver

The Heimlich maneuver should only be administered when a person is visibly choking and unable to breathe or speak. It is essential to act quickly but calmly. Here are the steps to perform the Heimlich maneuver:

  1. Stand Behind the Choking Person: Position yourself behind the person who is choking, ensuring that you both remain stable.
  2. Place Your Fist: Make a fist with one hand and place the thumb side against the middle of the person's abdomen, just above the navel (belly button).
  3. Grasp with Your Other Hand: Place your other hand on top of your fist, creating a strong grip.
  4. Perform Abdominal Thrusts: Using quick, upward thrusts, apply firm pressure to the person's abdomen. The thrusts should be directed inward and upward, aiming to force the obstruction out.
  5. Continue Until the Object is Expelled: Continue with abdominal thrusts until the obstructing object is expelled, and the person can breathe or cough effectively. If the person becomes unconscious, lower them to the ground gently and start CPR.
  6. If the Person Becomes Unconscious: If the person loses consciousness during the maneuver, carefully lower them to the ground, check for signs of breathing, and begin CPR if necessary. Continue to assess the airway and remove any visible obstructions.

What to Do If the Heimlich Maneuver Fails

If the Heimlich maneuver is unsuccessful in clearing the airway, or if the person becomes unconscious, you should:

  1. Call for Emergency Assistance: Dial emergency services (911 or your local emergency number) for professional medical help.
  2. Begin CPR: If the person is unconscious, initiate CPR, starting with chest compressions and rescue breaths. Check for signs of breathing and pulse before starting CPR.
  3. Check for Obstructions: While performing CPR, periodically check the mouth for any visible obstructions, and remove them if possible.

Special Considerations

  • Children and Infants: When performing the Heimlich maneuver on children and infants, the technique differs. For infants under one year old, back blows and chest thrusts are recommended. For older children, abdominal thrusts similar to those for adults can be used, but with less force.
  • Pregnant or Obese Individuals: Apply the Heimlich maneuver slightly higher, just under the breastbone (sternum), to account for changes in anatomy.
  • Ineffective Thrusts: If your thrusts are ineffective, continue to alternate between back blows (for infants and children) or chest thrusts (for adults) and abdominal thrusts until professional help arrives.

In summary, the Heimlich maneuver is a straightforward yet highly effective technique for clearing a blocked airway and preventing suffocation in cases of choking. When administered correctly and promptly, it can save lives by rapidly expelling obstructions from the airway, allowing the person to breathe freely again. However, it is essential to seek professional medical attention after a choking incident to ensure that no internal injuries or complications have occurred.

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