Photo: American Red Cross
For more than 30 years, the Heimlich manoeuvre was considered the gold standard for rescuing conscious chocking victims. The method, invented by Dr. Henry Heimlich in 1974, involves applying upward pressure under the choke point to force whatever is stuck to pop out. It’s more accurately described as an abdominal thrust.
In 2006, the American Red Cross, which undergoes a review of first-aid protocols every five years, decided to downgrade the importance of the Heimlich manoeuvre.
The organisation instead recommended forcefully slapping the victim’s back five times with the heel of the hand (which is the original way a person was treated before the Heimlich manoeuvre came along). Abdominal thrusts should only be tried if the first method doesn’t work.
The Red Cross made the switch because there was no evidence that abdominal thrusts worked better than back blows.
But Dr. Heimlich, now 92, stands by his method. He’s speaking out against the American Red Cross’ decision to use the Heimlich manoeuvre as a last resort.
Speaking to Cliff Radel of The Cincinnati Enquirer, Dr. Heimlich called the recommendation “horrifying.”
“There has never been any research saying the back slap saves lives,” he told the paper. “We know the Heimlich manoeuvre works. So it comes down to a matter of life or death.”
Although some evidence has suggested that slapping causes the blockage to drop deeper into the throat, making the problem worse, there doesn’t seem to be any conclusive evidence as to which method works better.
After combing through 40 years of research, William Terry Ray, director of the University of Cincinnati College of Nursing’s Nurse Anesthesia program, told the Enquirer that “there is no one definitive treatment to relieve an obstructed airway on a conscious person.”
Chocking and suffocation is the third leading cause of death in American homes, according the National Safety Council.
UPDATE: The Red Cross’ Don Lauritzen has emailed us with an explanation for their recommendation and how it was developed: “American Red Cross recommendations are based on the most up-to-date science. Our current recommendation to treat conscious, choking children and adults is using cycles of 5 back blows and 5 abdominal thrusts to attempt to dislodge an object. Dr. Richard N. Bradley, one of our Scientific Advisory Council members, recently wrote a blog addressing how the recommendation was developed.”
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