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What is the Heimlich Maneuver and How is it Performed?


What is the Heimlich Maneuver and How is it Performed?

The Heimlich maneuver is a first aid method used in cases of drowning. It can generally be used in adults and children to remove a substance that gets stuck in the throat and prevents breathing. The Heimlich maneuver involves applying pressure to the abdominal area. It is a quick life-saving method, but it is not used in every emergency drowning case. The Heimlich maneuver is used only in conscious people who cannot breathe on their own. The Heimlich maneuver is named after the doctor who discovered it and is used to remove a foreign object from the esophagus through rapid and upward pressure from under the rib cage. The Heimlich maneuver is a primary first aid method used in resolving drowning. Choking is when a person cannot breathe because their throat or windpipe (medically known as trachea) is blocked by a toy, food or other foreign object. The Heimlich maneuver is performed differently in adults and children.

In Which Situations Is the Heimlich Maneuver Used?

When the Heimlich maneuver needs to be used, the person who will perform the maneuver must be experiencing upper respiratory tract obstruction. In other words, if the person has difficulty breathing and is suffocating due to a foreign object, the Heimlich maneuver can be applied. In case of suffocation with a foreign object, the person cannot speak, tries to cough and cannot breathe. The Heimlich maneuver is used when this airway obstruction is severe and the person’s life is in danger.

In some cases, using the maneuver may cause more harm than good. For example, the drowning person; If the patient can speak, cough forcefully, or breathe adequately, this maneuver or even other airway maneuvers are not used. If the drowning person is unconscious, that is, the person cannot respond when you call and his eyes are not open, the Heimlich maneuver is not performed again. This maneuver is only used if the person is conscious and choking at the same time.

It is often possible to understand from a person’s gestures that he or she cannot speak, breathe, or cough. If you see movements that indicate this, you can understand that the person is drowning. Ask the person, “Are you drowning?” you may ask. Sometimes a drowning person may cough, but cannot speak to ask for help or explain the situation because he cannot breathe enough. Sometimes, his breathing and speech can be heard becoming increasingly faint. As a result of airway obstruction, the person’s speech becomes weak until only breathing sounds can be heard. The gesture of raising the hands up and squeezing the throat, a gesture that can be considered a universal symbol of suffocation, is often used to describe the situation.

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After making sure that the person is choking, the Heimlich maneuver is not used if the person can talk or cough or breathe. Encouraging the person to continue coughing is often the preferred method. Sometimes a strong cough can release a foreign object into the respiratory tract. It is healthier to use the Heimlich maneuver only when the person’s life is in danger.

How to Perform the Heimlich Maneuver?

After learning who can perform the Heimlich maneuver, the next step is usually to learn how to perform the maneuver. How the Heimlich maneuver is performed varies depending on who is performing it. People who need to follow different steps while performing Heimlich can be listed as follows:

  • A person who is not pregnant
  • children,
  • A pregnant woman or the Person himself.

Regardless of the person performing the maneuver, that person should still seek medical attention afterwards. The purpose of medical assistance is to ensure that there is no physical damage to the throat and respiratory tract after the Heimlich maneuver and the danger of drowning.

The person who is sure that he needs to perform the Heimlich maneuver; For a non-pregnant adult, you can follow these steps:

  1. It allows the person to stand up.
  2. Positions itself behind the person.
  3. He bends the person forward and makes five hits on the back with the palm of his hand.
  4. He then stands behind the person and puts his arms around the person’s abdomen.
  5. He makes a fist with one hand and wraps his other hand tightly around the fist.
  6. It places the thumb side of the fist just below the person’s ribcage and about 5 to 6 centimeters above the belly button.
  7. He thrusts his hands in and up sharply and quickly five times.
  8. The person performing Heimlich repeats these steps until the object is expelled from the respiratory tract and the person can breathe on their own or the person can cough.
  9. If the person becomes unconscious, begin CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation or cardiac massage).
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Alternatively, if the person cannot stand up; Sitting on his waist, facing his head, he tries to open the respiratory tract by pushing his fist inwards and upwards, just as he would while standing.

When performing the Heimlich maneuver, it is very important to evaluate whether the person needs the maneuver. If a person who appears to be choking is conscious and coughing, he or she may self-dislodge the swallowed object blocking the airway. If the person is conscious and there is airway obstruction due to a foreign body, it may be preferable to perform the Heimlich maneuver.

You can also apply the Heimlich maneuver to children. If the child is less than 5 years old or weighs less than 45 kilos, it would be more appropriate to slightly change the method of the maneuver. The person performing the maneuver kneels behind the child to get down to the child’s level. He then applies less forceful thrusts than the typical Heimlich maneuver requires.

The Heimlich maneuver can also save a pregnant person when she is drowning. Unlike the Heimlich maneuver performed on normal adults, in pregnant and obese people, the performer must place their hands slightly higher on the person’s torso, around the base of the breastbone (sternum). If the person on whom the maneuver is performed is unconscious, Heimlich cannot be performed. First, the maneuver practitioner lays the person on his back and tries to clear the airway by making a sweeping motion with his finger. If he is unable to remove the stuck object, he begins performing CPR.

If a person realizes that his/her respiratory tract is blocked by a foreign object in an environment where he/she is alone, he/she can perform the Heimlich maneuver on his/her own. If you are alone and choking, you can try to open your airway with the Heimlich maneuver by following these steps:

  1. Make a fist with one hand and wrap your other hand tightly around it.
  2. Make a fist and place it, thumb side in, just above your navel, just below your ribcage.
  3. Grasp the fist with your other hand.
  4. Push your hands in and up sharply and quickly five times
  5. Repeat this process until the object is expelled and you can breathe or cough on your own.
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Alternatively, you can try this maneuver by leaning on the edge of a railing, chair or table. You can repeat this process by sharply and quickly pushing your upper abdomen towards the hard edge you are leaning against until the object is released (that is, out of the respiratory tract).

It is very important to have first aid knowledge to make all these evaluations. You may consider applying to the nearest health institution to get information on this issue or to evaluate the respiratory tract for damage after you have overcome the danger of drowning.

What should be taken into consideration during the Heimlich maneuver?

It is very important to decide who will perform the maneuver. If the drowning person is conscious and can speak or cough, the Heimlich maneuver is not recommended. For this maneuver, the person performing it must also be conscious. It is recommended to start CPR when unconscious.

First aid is a subject with intricate details. For this reason, doing it without knowing it, even with good intentions, may cause more harm than good. Therefore, when you encounter an emergency, you may consider calling 112.

How to Perform the Heimlich Maneuver in Babies?

It may not be possible to apply the Heimlich maneuver to babies. Generally, the Heimlich maneuver is not recommended for use in babies 12 months or younger. Instead, babies’ airways are tried to be opened with back blows. When the drowning person is less than 1 year old, the rescuer takes the necessary steps to apply this method as follows:

  1. Turns the baby on his/her stomach with his/her chest over your forearm.
  2. Makes sure the baby’s head is lower than his body.
  3. He hits the baby five times between the shoulder blades with the palm of his hand. The hits are hard, but not hard enough to cause injury.
  4. Checks the baby’s mouth and carefully removes visible objects.
  5. If the airways remain blocked, she turns the baby face up and head down and uses her second and third fingers to make five chest thrusts inwards and upwards against the baby’s breastbone (sternum).
  6. Checks the baby’s mouth again for visible objects.
  7. It repeats this process until the object in the airway is released or the baby becomes unconscious.
  8. If the baby becomes unconscious, begin CPR.

Emergency aid is more likely to be beneficial only when it is given by knowledgeable people. When you encounter an emergency, you may consider calling 112 and applying to the nearest healthcare facility.


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