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Water Will Not Lessen Choke's Hold

May 01, 1996

"When choking on food, swallowing water can help dislodge it."

Wrong, says Dr. Philip Fagan Jr., medical director of the emergency department at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles.

"If in fact you are truly choking, the thing you don't want to do is swallow fluid that will go into your trachea and make things worse," he says.

The Heimlich maneuver--done correctly--can help, says Fagan, who recommends preparing for such emergencies by asking your family physician to demonstrate how to perform the technique.

But if the choking person can talk, the Heimlich maneuver is not indicated, Fagan warns, because that probably means the obstruction is partial--and the maneuver might make things worse.

If someone is partially blocked, help the person remain calm and instruct him or her to continue to breathe in and out calmly and slowly. Call 911.

The odds of choking are higher, Fagan says, in people who have been drinking alcohol, people who have had a stroke or who wear dentures.

How about using a piece of white bread to dislodge a pill or a small piece of food that may become stuck in your throat?

No again, Fagan says. "Swallowing bread--white, wheat, with or without preservatives--does not help dislodge something that is truly stuck. . . . The amount of saliva you normally swallow will ease it down. Don't do anything to compromise the airway."

But if you're not truly choking but feel that something may have just "gone down the wrong way," he says, swallowing small amounts of water may help.

* Doheny cannot answer mail personally but will attempt to respond in this column to questions of general interest. Please do not telephone. Write to Mythbusters, Life & Style, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053.

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