SINGAPORE - A regular meal can quickly take a turn for the worse if the food in your mouth ends up in your airway.
Choking hinders one's breathing, which means that if the foreign body is not removed immediately, complete airway obstruction will occur. This can result in death.
Besides food, choking can also be caused by small objects, such as toys, which can get lodged in the airway.
Senior nurse manager Ng Wei Wei, from the acute and emergency care centre at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH), gives some pointers on what to do if someone is choking, how to avoid it yourself and the Heimlich manoeuvre.
1. If the person is partially choking, encourage him to cough in order to expel the foreign object.
If the person is in a full choke, he will show the universal distress sign of choking by clutching his neck area with his thumb and fingers (left).
2. If the person is not able to cough and you are not trained in the Heimlich manoeuvre (right) - which compresses the lungs and forces out any objects stuck in the windpipe, do not thump his back, as it may cause the foreign object to be lodged deeper.
Try and seek help from anyone nearby who is trained in the Heimlich manoeuvre or from a medical professional immediately.
All nurses and allied health professionals are trained to handle such emergencies.
3. If you are choking and there is no one around to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre, you can try to use the technique on yourself.
First, locate your navel.
Place two fingers above the navel and well below the tip of the lower breastbone.
Make a fist with your other hand with the thumb in the palm.
Place the thumb side of the fist against your own abdomen, at the midline and above the two fingers' spacing.
Pull inward and upward, pressing into the abdomen with quick upward thrusts, using force, as if you are trying to pull yourself up.
Do the thrusts until the object is dislodged.
4. To avoid choking, try not to laugh, talk, play or cry when eating. Instead, just concentrate on eating.
This story was first published in The Straits Times' Mind Your Body on May 1, 2014.