Performing the Heimlich Maneuver
Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.
What is the Heimlich maneuver?
The Heimlich maneuver is a procedure used to help a choking person who is conscious and unable to talk. The Heimlich maneuver pushes air out of the person's lungs and makes him cough. The force of the cough may then move the object out of his airway.
What are the signs that a person has a blocked airway?
- Bright red or bluish face
- Grabbing of the throat
- Not being able to cough forcefully
- Trouble speaking
- Wheezing or a whistling sound when trying to breathe
What should I do before I start the Heimlich maneuver?
- Ask the person if he is choking.
- If he nods yes, ask if he can speak. Call 911 if the person cannot speak. You can then perform the Heimlich maneuver on the person until help arrives.
- If he can speak, this means his airway is only partly blocked. Tell the person to try and cough to push the object out of his airway.
How do I perform the Heimlich maneuver on adults and children older than 1 year?
- Wrap your arms around the choking person's waist. Bend him slightly forward at his waist.
- Make a fist with one of your hands. Place the thumb side of your fist between the person's belly button and the lowest part of his ribs. Do not put your fist on the ribs.
- Put your other hand over your fist. Press your fist into the person's abdomen with a quick inward and upward thrust. Repeat the quick thrusts until the object comes out. If the person vomits, lay him on his side to prevent the object from totally blocking his airway.
- Lay the person on his back on the floor if he becomes unconscious. Then call 911 and start rescue breathing or CPR. Ask for more information about rescue breathing and CPR.
- Wrap your arms under the armpits of an overweight or pregnant person. Place your fist on the center of the person's breastbone. Be sure your fist is not low on the breastbone, or off to one side on the ribs. Place your other hand over your fist, and do quick pushes. Do this until the object comes out or the person becomes unconscious.
How do I perform the Heimlich maneuver on a choking infant younger than 1 year?
- Hold the infant face down, with his head slightly lower than his feet. Support his jaw and head with your hand. Support his weight with your knee if you are sitting, and on your forearm if you are standing.
- Give up to 5 blows on his upper back, between his shoulder blades. Use the heel of your free hand to do this. If you see an object come out of the infant's mouth, stop the back blows.
- Sandwich the infant between your arms and hands, and turn him over onto his back. Support his head and neck with your hand. The infant's head should be held slightly lower than his feet.
- Give up to 5 chest thrusts with 2 fingers. Your fingers should be placed on the lower half of his breastbone. Be sure your fingers are not off to one side, or at the bottom of his breastbone. If you see an object come out of his mouth, stop giving the chest thrusts.
- Repeat all steps until the object comes out of the infant's mouth. If he becomes unconscious, call 911 and begin CPR. Ask for more information about performing CPR on infants.
How do I perform the Heimlich maneuver on myself?
If you can breathe and talk, cough hard to try to force the object out. If you cannot talk or cough, and are having trouble breathing, do the following:
- Call 911. Set the phone down while you perform the Heimlich maneuver. Do not hang up the phone.
- Make a fist with one hand. Place the thumb side of your fist between your belly button and the lowest part of your ribs. Do not put your fist on your ribs.
- Put your other hand over your fist. Press your fist into your abdomen with a quick inward and upward push. Repeat the quick pushes until you are able to spit out the object.
- If you cannot get the object out, press your upper abdomen over a hard, flat surface. The back of a chair, side of a table, or porch railing may work. You may need to do many hard, fast pushes against the surface to clear your airway.
What can I do to help prevent choking?
- Cut food into small pieces and chew slowly and well.
- Do not talk or laugh while you chew or swallow food.
- Do not give medicine in tablet form to children younger than 4 years.
- Do not give foods such as peanuts and popcorn to small children or anyone who cannot chew well.
- Do not let young children play with toys small enough to put in their mouths. Be aware of choking hazard warnings on toys.
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