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Why You Should Never Use the ‘Finger Sweep’ Choking Treatment

June 26, 2019

Why You Should Never Use the ‘Finger Sweep’ Choking Treatment

When you search around online for choking first-aid treatments, you might come across the “finger sweep” method. We would like to take this opportunity to add our voices to the chorus of respected healthcare organizations around the world advocating against this potentially dangerous approach.

Originally recommended as a method for parents to help choking babies and toddlers, the finger sweep involves running your finger through the choking person’s mouth in an attempt to dislodge the food or other object that is blocking the airway. While we understand the appeal of this common-sense approach, evidence has shown that it’s not only ineffective in the vast majority of choking cases, but it also can make the situation much worse.

In nearly all cases, if a choking victim’s airway is completely blocked, that means the object is likely too far down the throat to simply be swept aside by a finger. In fact the object is often so far down the throat that you wouldn’t even be able to see it if the victim opened his or her mouth wide. Even if you can see the object, touching it with your finger is far more likely to push it further into the airway than to dislodge it.

This is why most organizations say you should not attempt the finger sweep. “Don't try a finger sweep if you can't see the object. Be careful not to push the food or object deeper into the airway, which can happen easily in young children,” says the Mayo Clinic. And the nonprofit National Health Care Provider Solutions says, “Older authoritative organizations advised caregivers to perform a blind finger sweep to attempt to remove an object from a choking victim, regardless of age ... . This notion has been replaced by evidence-based practices to only perform a finger sweep if you can see the object clearly in the person’s mouth.”

Even if you can see the object, we recommend trying other proven first-aid methods first, including:

  • Abdominal thrusts: Also known as the Heimlich maneuver, abdominal thrusts involve wrapping your arms around a choking victim’s chest and pulling inward and upward. This pushes air out of the lungs forcefully to dislodge the object blocking the airway.
  • Back blows: Back blows or slaps are recommended by the American Red Cross and other respected healthcare groups in combination with abdominal thrusts, alternating between the two. They involve delivering strong blows with the heel of your hand to the area between the choking victim’s shoulder blades.
  • The Dechoker: Our innovative anti-choking device is a newer alternative to the traditional standards of choking first-aid care, which we recommend in case those methods should fail. The Dechoker is a plastic face mask attached to a suction syringe. To use it, simply apply the face mask over the choking victim’s nose and mouth, and pull back on the plunger. This creates suction that often clears the airway within seconds, with no risk of injury or of worsening the situation. See a video of how it works here.

Why try a risky and potentially dangerous method when multiple alternatives that have been proven effective are at your fingertips?

You can learn more about choking prevention and first-aid treatments here on our blog, and more about the innovative Dechoker here.


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