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 This notion has been replaced by evidence-based practices to only perform a finger sweep if you can see the object clearly in the person’s mouth.”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:
Why try a risky and potentially dangerous method when multiple alternatives that have been proven effective are at your fingertips?
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