Heimlich Maneuver

The Heimlich maneuver, method, technique — regardless of the name, the procedure, invented in 1974, can help a person, when during a meal, something goes down the wrong way, causing airway obstruction. Henry Heimlich was an American thoracic surgeon and medical researcher whose namesake innovation has saved countless lives.

More than four decades later, the American Association of Emergency Physicians still considers the Heimlich maneuver to be a standard part of first aid. If you would like to know how to act without hesitation before someone who is choking loses consciousness, this article will become the first step to learning more about the technique.

Partial or Complete Airway Obstruction

Partial airway obstruction triggers the cough reflex — you can still breathe, but it is difficult. Indeed, it is the first defense mechanism — a way to remove bits of food or foreign objects stuck in the throat.

It is important not to stop coughing until the piece comes out on its own or until you can remove it with your fingers. Be on the alert: a piece of food can completely obstruct breathing.

In the case of complete airway obstruction, a person cannot breathe or make a sound; therefore, it is vital to use the Heimlich maneuver immediately. It applies to adults, children, babies.

Your Actions

When the Victim Is an Adult

Put your arms around their ribcage from behind, tilt them forward a little so that the food or foreign object lodged in the airway stops moving inward.

Carefully hit with an open palm between the shoulder blades. The piece of food should come out. If not, do it again, but no more than five times. If the procedure is unsuccessful, place your fist between the victim’s ribs and navel, and the other hand on top (lock). Push.

Do not repeat this if the victim is a pregnant woman, an overweight person, or a child under one year old. Call an ambulance if the piece of food continues to obstruct the airway.

When the Victim is a Baby Younger Than One

If the baby is not coughing, place them face down across your forearm (resting your forearm on your leg) and support their head with your hand. Give a gentle blow to the back with the heel of your hand. Examine the mouth: if the piece of food comes out, it remains in the mouth. Take it out.

You can repeat the procedure five times. Do not use your fingers to reach for the food, as this will only push it deeper, making the situation worse.

In the forty-plus years since its invention, the Heimlich maneuver has saved the lives of thousands of people around the world. Hopefully, you’ll never have to apply it, but if the trouble catches you unaware, it is better to be prepared.

If you’ve found this article useful, be sure to share it with your friends.


I am an English major with a love of languages and fiction, and with an incurable travel bug. In my free time, I read fantasy, drink copious amounts of coffee, and like to go see movies. Culinary art means everything to me. My main hypostasis is the taster, though. The music school has taught me to appreciate the symphony of airy meringues, to create harmonious overtures of light snacks, hard rock of meat, fish, and vegetables on the grill. Choir classes have accustomed me to hear and feel the people nearby and create perfect harmonies of sounds.

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