This Crude Sketch Just Might Keep You From Choking To Death

After a close shave, one scientist is talking up a head-down remedy.
The basic head-down position (figure a), and the position done with the help of a stool (figure b).
The basic head-down position (figure a), and the position done with the help of a stool (figure b).
Dr. Artur Luczak/Resuscitation

How can you save yourself if you begin to choke on food and no one is around to administer the Heimlich maneuver?

Experts say to call 911 and then try a do-it-yourself version of the Heimlich. But if that fails to resolve what is known in medical circles as “foreign body airway obstruction,” or FBAO ― a potentially lethal situation ― it might help to lower your head to the floor (see diagram above) and let gravity dislodge that errant nut or hunk of meat.

At least that’s the word from a neuroscientist who claims the technique once kept him from choking to death on food.

“The available data suggest that the head-down position could be an effective method of rescuing adults suffering a FBAO when other methods are not successful or not available (especially when a choking person is alone),” Dr. Artur Luczak of the University of Lethbridge in Canada said in a letter published in the June 2016 issue of the journal Resuscitation.

Luczak said that in addition to helping expel foreign bodies, the head-down position can help get rid of saliva and other fluids that can exacerbate choking episodes. But given that the position may worsen choking in certain rare cases and that the data supporting its use are scant, he said, it should probably be considered “the last option if all other maneuvers fail.”

Luczak’s argument isn’t exactly a slam-dunk, and the amateurish sketch that accompanies his letter doesn’t help ― one sarcastic wag on Reddit quipped that “it must have taken them hours to draw.” But the technique depicted in that crude line drawing might save your life, at least if Luczak is right about the head-down position.

And he might be.

“If you are alone, you do what you can do,” Dr. James Williams, a clinical assistant professor of emergency medicine at Texas Tech Medical School and a spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians, told The Huffington Post. “It’s not unreasonable to try this. Intuitively, it makes sense.”

Still, Williams added, dialing 911 and using the self-Heimlich should remain the primary approach for any adult who experiences a choking episode while alone.

Of course, the best way to avoid choking to death is avoid choking in the first place. Among other things, that means eating more slowly and chewing your food thoroughly. Especially when dining alone.

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