What’s the Best Way to Stop Yourself From Choking?

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We’ve all been there. One moment you’re sitting alone watching ridiculous YouTube videos and eating a piece of pizza; the next, you’ve aspirated a piece of burnt crust and find yourself gasping for air. What you do next could save your life … but what do you do next?


The Red Cross recommends starting with a call to 911. "Even if you are not able to speak, the open line will cause the dispatcher to send help," Don Lauritzen of the American Red Cross told mental_floss. "Give yourself abdominal thrusts, using your hands, just as if you were giving abdominal thrusts to another person. Alternatively, bend over and press your abdomen against any firm object, such as the back of a chair or a railing. Do not bend over anything with a sharp edge or corner that might hurt you, and be careful when leaning on a railing that is elevated."


In the video above, paramedic Jeff Rehman demonstrates his very own auto-first-aid maneuver, which he adapted from an ab exercise he used to use in his previous career as a boxer. The basic premise is simple: Use gravity and your body weight to knock the wind—and, with it, the contents of your windpipe—out of yourself. This will not feel good, but it still beats choking to death.


Image Credit: Luczak 2016. Resuscitation.

The Heimlich Maneuver may be the best-known method, but it’s not the best, and most emergency medicine practitioners use it only as a last resort. For adults, the Red Cross currently recommends the Five and Five method [PDF]: cycles of five back blows and five abdominal thrusts.

Babies’ bodies are far too fragile to be pummeled in this way. Instead, experts recommend [PDF] holding the baby facedown and upside-down and administering smaller, but still firm, blows.

What works for babies can also work for adults, experts say. Invert your respiratory tract by hanging upside down, either in a downward-dog-style pose or by dangling over the side of a chair like you’re trying to look underneath it. Once again, gravity should come to your rescue.

Need more assurance? Take a class with the Red Cross or download their free First Aid app, which offers step-by-step guidelines for dealing with choking and other basic medical emergencies.